Tuesday, October 19, 2010

PotashCorp and BHP Billiton refuse to disclose advertising costs; Wall government denies access request for potash royalty and tax break figures

Bill Doyle’s former Saskatoon residence

It’s a toss up as to what’s worse: the sorry spectacle of billion dollar corporations trying to buy the public’s affection, or Premier Brad Wall and Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd wrapping themselves in the Saskatchewan flag as defenders of the province’s interests.

Not long after BHP Billiton announced its US$38.6 billion hostile takeover bid of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, the Australian-based mining giant began taking out half- and full-page ads in the province’s two largest daily newspapers – the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post – to promote itself as friendly, community-minded, and vital to the economy.

“We have a proven track record with our EKATI diamond mine, which has created 10,000 jobs and the benefits that go with spending $3.4 billion in local businesses in the Northwest Territories,” notes an BHP ad in the StarPhoenix on October 8, 2010.

The company says it plans to continue that success in Saskatchewan.

“BHP Billiton and Saskatchewan. A future together.” Good grief.

It wasn’t long before Potash Corp followed suit with a similar ad campaign. One full-page spread on September 25, 2010, had a smiling Bill Doyle, the company’s uber-rich president and CEO, explaining in an open letter how important PotashCorp has been to the provincial economy over the past 20 years, and how its $7 billion expansion program will create almost 15,000 jobs and $3.2 billion of new economic activity in the province.

“If you have questions about PotashCorp, email us at askus@potashcorp.com,” Doyle’s letter said at the end.

On the surface, both companies appear friendly and open. Just don’t ask them about their business, though, like how much they’re spending on advertising.

In emails dated October 15, 2010, both companies refused to disclose the cost of their respective ad campaigns in Saskatchewan newspapers.

“BHP Billiton has been raising its profile in the Province of Saskatchewan over the years that we have had a presence there and since our offer for PotashCorp. However, I am not able to disclose the amount spent on advertising,” said Bronwyn Wilkinson, BHP Billiton’s investor and media relations contact in Vancouver.

“We are not in the habit of breaking out specific line items of our business,” was the terse response from PotashCorp’s director of public affairs, Bill Johnson, in Saskatoon.

There was a time when companies had ‘public relations’ departments. Not anymore.

Expensive advertising is not the only way that BHP Billiton and PotashCorp are trying to attract public support.

On October 4, 2010, BHP Billiton announced it was taking over title sponsorship of the Enchanted Forest holiday light tour from the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority, at a cost of $100,000 per year for three years, the StarPhoenix reported.

The annual Christmas light show has run for 11 years at the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo, with visitors driving through the park to look at light displays. Last year, the event raised $50,000 for the Saskatoon Zoo Foundation and $50,000 for the City Hospital Foundation. [Lights on for BHP Billiton (StarPhoenix, October 5, 2010)]

This was followed by the PotashCorp announcement on October 5, 2010, that the company was entering a minimum $5 million sponsorship agreement to help refurbish Saskatoon’s Kinsmen Park that includes an old fashioned carousel, miniature train, play village and paddling pool. [PotashCorp pledges cash to rejuvenate Kinsmen Park (StarPhoenix, October 6, 2010)]

Then, on October 13, 2010, PotashCorp presented a cheque for $500,000 to the Friendship Inn – a local soup kitchen and drop-in centre – in support of the Friendship Inn’s Friends in Deed capital campaign.

The Friendship Inn has now raised $1 million of its $3-million goal following the launch of PotashCorp’s gift-matching challenge in June. The funds will go toward an expansion of the centre, the StarPhoenix said. [PotashCorp offers guideline (StarPhoenix, October 14, 2010)]

Despite all the money being thrown around, the public doesn’t appear to be buying what the companies are selling, especially BHP.

An Insightrix Research Inc. poll released October 14, 2010, shows that 55% of Saskatchewan residents remain either strongly (31%) or somewhat (24%) opposed to the deal. This is unchanged from findings of a similar poll conducted by Insightrix in late August 2010 on behalf of News Talk 980 CJME and News Talk 650 CKOM. Presently, 13% support the potential transaction (14% in August) and 12% are unsure (10% in August). Finally, 21% are indifferent on the issue, compared to 22% in August.

Former Saskatchewan NDP Premier Allan Blakeney hit the nail on the head in a recent op-ed to the StarPhoenix when he pointed out that BHP Billiton was in the business of making money by dealing in iron ore, metallurgical coal, thermal coal, nickel, manganese, copper, diamonds, petroleum, lead, zinc, and aluminum (and perhaps some more).

“In its world, potash will be filed after petroleum and before titanium,” he said.

“The day BHP can make more money selling potash mines than selling potash will be the day that BHP sells the mines.

“It would be taking a huge chance to allow this company to corral all the shares for easy sale to a consumer group. This may well be the last chance for Canada and Saskatchewan to make sure that the mines are owned by producers.”

Blakeney wants to see a rule under the Investment Canada Act that says 60 per cent of all shares of PotashCorp shall be owned by Canadian citizens who are resident in Canada. [Keep potash 60 per cent Cdn. (StarPhoenix, October 14, 2010)]

PotashCorp is taking some well-deserved hits as well, including one from a former union organizer over the companies rotten treatment of its employees, and particularly its retired employees.

Terry Stevens, who was active in organizing potash workers at mines in the Saskatoon area in the late 1960s and early 1970s for the United Steelworkers of America, said in a recent op-ed to the StarPhoenix that he’s “observed over the years many non-union employees rise through the ranks to senior management and executive positions at PCS. Many of them became millionaires and multi-millionaires following the privatization of the Crown Corporation in the late 1980s by the Grant Devine government.”

No one has done better than Bill Doyle, Stevens said. According to PotashCorp’s annual report, he has share and stock options totalling 3,426,000, valued at $531 million.

“When Doyle cashes out, not one cent will come to Saskatchewan or Canada as tax revenue, because he is an American citizen living in the U.S. and does not have Canadian residence. He has looked after himself, the PCS executives, and the board of directors well. They are all very wealthy, or much wealthier, now.

“Doyle was a generous indeed, to all but the working men and women who toiled for years to build PCS. Many of them are now retired, without health benefits to care for conditions resulting from their work in building up PCS. It should be noted that Doyle and company executives now and in the past enjoy the best health benefits available upon retirement.

“Yet the company continues to deny minimum health benefits to its retired employees.”

Stevens is critical of PotashCorp’s current advertising campaign featuring Doyle thanking those who played a role in making Saskatchewan the potash capital of the world.

“Once again, the employees’ contribution was completely overlooked,” Stevens said. [Billiton takeover might be helpful for PCS workers (StarPhoenix, October 7, 2010)]

Doyle at one time lived in Saskatoon, but he now resides in a suburb of Chicago where the company has its main U.S. office.

In July 2002, Doyle put the family’s extravagant riverfront home located at 329 Saskatchewan Crescent West on the market for an astounding $3 million. At the time, the average house in Saskatoon was going for about $120,000.

According to the StarPhoenix, the 6,000 square-foot, brick, custom-designed home came with a state-of-the-art kitchen, a multi-media room, a wine cellar, six bedrooms, seven bathrooms and a professionally landscaped yard that includes multi-level patios leading to the riverbank.

Betty Ann Heggie, the then senior vice-president of corporate relations at PotashCorp, told the newspaper that Doyle owned a home in Chicago and intended to purchase a smaller place in Saskatoon when he sells his current residence. [City home is yours -- for $3 million (StarPhoenix, January 9, 2003)]

The Doyle home reportedly sold for $2 million in 2004. [Quick facts about Potash CEO Bill Doyle (Globe and Mail, October 15, 2010)]

One of the reasons the Doyle’s left Saskatoon is that Bill’s wife, Kathy Doyle, according to the Globe and Mail, ‘felt the local school system could not meet her family’s needs, and she moved the family back to their home in suburban Winnetka, Ill.’

Mr. Doyle faced the prospect of weeks on planes, then returning to an empty mansion in Saskatoon. So he, too, went back to Chicago and sold the Canadian house, the newspaper said. [Potash Corp.’s biggest booster facing the toughest sales job of his life (Globe and Mail, October 16, 2010)]

It’s possible the reference to ‘local school system’ meant the public system. Perhaps it was Saskatoon’s shortage of private schools that was the problem.

It seems, too, that Doyle never did buy the smaller home in Saskatoon like he planned.

Aside from flooding the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post with expensive advertising, BHP Billiton and PotashCorp have done nothing to engage the public directly.

Graham Kerr, president of BHP Billiton’s diamonds and specialty products division, had lots of time recently to rub shoulders with local business weasels speaking at a luncheon on October 5, 2010, sponsored by the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce and attending a breakfast on October 14, 2010, put on by the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce. But meet with residents at a town hall meeting? There’s no sign of that happening any time soon.

PotashCorp, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have done anything.

The right wing Saskatchewan Party government is no better.

Premier Brad Wall and Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd have repeatedly stated that potash belongs to the people of Saskatchewan, but ever since BHP Billiton’s takeover attempt was announced on August 18, 2010, the provincial government has made no efforts whatsoever to ask the public what it wants.

“Potash belongs to the people of the province. It doesn’t belong to Potash Corp. or any other entity,” Wall told Diane Francis, Financial Post editor at large, last month in an interview. [Sale will run up against Wall (Financial Post, September 16, 2010)]

“The concern here is that at the end of the day, the people of Saskatchewan, who own the resource, feel that the best alternative is available to them -- either the option of saying no or the option of saying yes, with significant undertakings in place,” Boyd told reporters on October 4, 2010, after the Conference Board of Canada was released. [Ottawa must protect Sask. interests: Boyd (StarPhoenix, October 6, 2010)]

In the interview with Francis, Wall acknowledged that provincial powers override shareholder rights.

“Certainly that’s my understanding. We have the powers to regulate the resource and retain sovereign powers of taxation. We’re going to be very measured about this. This is not a time for ideology,” Wall said.

“We want to make sure that long after my government is gone, the people of Saskatchewan maintain control.”

However, when Opposition NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter on October 12, 2010, laid out a seven-point plan addressing things like ownership and control, Wall immediately rejected the ideas.

Lingenfelter called for a “golden share,” which would give the holder ‘veto power’ over all other shareholders, with respect to specific corporate decisions.

The NDP plan would have the people of Saskatchewan own shares in the corporation; and, for the corporation to sign an agreement with the province to adjust its potash royalties, such that the people of Saskatchewan will be made whole for any loss in royalties due to the construction of new or expanded mines or due to corporate tax write-offs from acquisition debt.

Wall said the Saskatchewan Party government would not make broader changes to the government’s royalty scheme. He dismissed the NDP’s proposal saying it would curtail expansion plans and kill jobs throughout the potash industry. [Sask. may urge feds to nix bid for PotashCorp (StarPhoenix, October 14, 2010)]

Wall provided no alternative plan or evidence to back his comments. In fact, the only thing the Wall government has done since mid-August when the issue erupted is to hire the conservative Conference Board of Canada – a mouthpiece for the business community – at a cost between $70,000 and $80,000 for advice on what to do.

In a nutshell, the Conference Board’s report (released October 4, 2010) says the province, over the long-term, has little to fear in a BHP Billiton takeover of PotashCorp. No surprise there.

Wall’s behaviour is disgraceful. He leads the people of Saskatchewan to believe that it not only owns the potash but should control it as well. And then, when presented with a plan to make it happen he bails.

There is one other thing that the Wall government has done on this file since August. It has managed to offend the Aboriginal community by crapping all over a request by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) for a greater share of resource revenues, including potash.

The situation has gotten so bad, so quickly, that the FSIN is considering legal action against the Saskatchewan Party government.

Premier Brad Wall did himself no favours when he seemed to welcome the challenge saying he doesn’t agree First Nations have any jurisdiction over natural resources in Saskatchewan.

“We wouldn’t agree with that, obviously,” Wall told reporters on October 13, 2010.

“If there’s any attempt from a legal standpoint we would defend the fact that the natural resources of Saskatchewan are the exclusive jurisdiction of the province of Saskatchewan according to the Natural Resources Transfer Act of 1930,” he said.

That act “sets out whose jurisdictions this is and we obviously feel very confident in that being the position of the province,” Wall said. [FSIN will ‘take a stand’ (StarPhoenix, October 14, 2010)]

Making matters worse is Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd, who said the government was happy to work with First Nations, but that there is no obligation on the part of the province to share any revenues from potash or other natural resources with First Nations. [‘Unfinished business’ (StarPhoenix, October 12, 2010)]

Now there’s a good starting point for discussions.

Potash companies operating in Saskatchewan have gotten a great deal over the years.

In his August 21, 2010, column on the Wall government’s first quarter financial report, Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk touched on the lucrative business of potash, specifically the “enormous amount of power and influence” that corporations like BHP Billiton and PotashCorp wield over government. It’s the kind of sway that allows them “to demand tax and royalty breaks, such as the one for new-mine development” that kicked in January 1, 2010.

Mandryk said finance officials wouldn’t provide a breakdown of how much those royalty breaks for mine development will cost Saskatchewan this year, or even how much more royalty money the province will be getting as a result of the potash market recovery.

“This is because these few potash players can demand and get confidentiality on issues such as what royalties they pay and how much they each get in tax exemptions,” said Mandryk.

“It’s pretty clear, however, that these companies have any uncanny ability to get subsidies from government. We saw this once again on [August 19] when the government announced 120 more Mosaic head office jobs for that new Regina office building.

“The government has guaranteed a $100,000-a-year subsidy for each of those jobs for five years, then a $25,000 subsidy for each job forever after.

“This $25,000 per corporate job tax break has been extended to all existing corporate potash from a government.” [Potash comes with uncertainty (StarPhoenix, August 21, 2010)]

If BHP Billiton is successful in taking over PotashCorp will the company start demanding royalty concessions like it did in Australia? As Mandryk pointed out in his August 20, 2010, column, BHP is massive with with “roughly 20 times the revenue of the Saskatchewan government.” [Impact of BHP deal hits home (StarPhoenix, August 20, 2010)]

What’s Wall’s plan for dealing with that scenario?

On October 7, 2010, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy of Resources made it official when it denied an access to information request for a detailed breakdown of the royalties paid and tax exemptions received by Agrium Inc., Mosaic Company, and Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan since January 1, 2010.

The ministry gives two reasons for the refusal:

▪ Disclosure of the information could reasonably be expected to prejudice the economic interest of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution; and,

▪ Records contain financial information that is supplied in confidence, implicitly or explicitly, to a government institution by a third party.

The ministry’s decision has been referred to the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner for review, where the onus will be on the Wall government to prove its case for absolute secrecy.

For a natural resource that the public supposedly owns, the people of Saskatchewan have very little say in how it’s being managed and exploited.

Email from PotashCorp

Email from BHP Billiton


At 6:30 PM, Blogger Ideas of a soccer guy! said...

This what the liberal leader is saying on this subject. What do you think of this message... I personally think it is far to the right .

Sask Party and NDP say “Saskatchewan Closed for Business”
October 22, 2010
COMMENTARY - The Government and Opposition Parties are both hypocritical and short sighted in their united decision to interfere in the potential sale of PotashCorp.

Brad Wall is clearly playing favourites in direct contrast to his own mantra that government should not pick winners and losers. This sale is not about Saskatchewan control - it is about the sale of an American-based company to an Australian-based company. Wall has no right to undermine the rights of private individuals to sell their shares to the highest bidder.

No private company owns the potash and to suggest that we would lose control of our resource through a possible sale is false. The people of Saskatchewan own the potash, and we are a key part of the business equation as a supplier. The way to ensure control is to assert ourselves through stronger resource policy that maximizes the benefit to Saskatchewan people.

Furthermore, both the Sask Party and the NDP are suddenly demanding that PotashCorp move its Head Office from Chicago to Saskatoon. If this was so important to them they why did they allow the Head Office to move in the first place? Where have they been for the past twenty years?

Wall’s real motivation to block this sale is his need for immediate cash in order to run his government. Both the Sask Party and the NDP have been far too dependent on resource revenues in order to fund their bloated budgets. While citing a possibility of deferred revenue of $2billion over ten years they ignore the possibility of long term prosperity through added investment and new jobs.

Of course, Brad Wall and Dwain Lingenfelter do not think long term. They only think in four year election cycles. Career politicians do that.

Even worse, they have just told the world that Saskatchewan is closed for business.

- Ryan Bater, Saskatchewan Liberal Leader


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