The Great Potash Debate
So after a quick trip to wikipedia, I learned that potash is a potassium compound that has been used "since the dawn of history". It is used to manufacture glass, soap, and soil fertilizer, and Canada produces close to a third of the world's potash. Also, "the Potashes" were a 19th century New York street gang and Dan Potash is a reporter for FSN Pittsburgh.
So why should politically-minded Canadians care?
Well, Australia-owned BHP Billiton Ltd. has put in a bid to buy Potash Corp (hereto after refereed to by its TSE ticker symbol - "POT") and this has, of course, stoked fears among economic nationalists. After all, first we give up control over potash...the next thing you know kangaroo zombies are running free in the streets and we're all drinking Foster's.
Of course, as is so often the case when talking about economic nationalism, the reality is a bit murkier. Even though the perception exists that POT is a Canadian company, POT isn't crown controlled anymore, and Canadian shareholders only own 49% of it. It's not exactly a case of "an American-controlled company being taken over by an Australian-controlled company", as Stephen Harper described it, but it's not like we're selling the Saskatchewan Roughriders here.
Not surprisingly given how sexy an issue potash is, this story has become hugely political. Brad Wall, after seeing Shawn Graham turfed over the New Brunswick Hydro "takeover", has come out swinging against this deal. He has no doubt given Danny Williams a call for advice, and there have been suggestions he may run his own ABC campaign next election should Harper approve the takeover.
The Sask NDP, a slew of Premiers, and the opposition parties in Ottawa have sided with Wall. Oh, and so has the University of Saskatchewan Students Union. Supporting the deal are the Sask Liberals (motto: "we have nothing to lose so why not be principled?") and...that's about it in terms of active politicians, though John Manley, Andrew Coyne, newspaper editorials, and many others who don't have to worry about being elected have argued the POT deal should move forward.
Although Investment Canada has approved the sale, the final decision rests with the federal government - and given the Minister responsible for the file is Tony Clement, there's a good chance the Harper government will find a way to screw this one up. A verdict is expected later this afternoon (presumably it will be announced over Twitter) - what Harper and Clement decide is anybody's guess.
If the decision were based purely on ideology, they'd no doubt approve the deal. But this government long ago gave up the pretense that it bases decisions on ideology. Canadians are blissfully unaware of this issue so, politically, there doesn't appear to be anything but downside in allowing the POT takeover to move ahead.
UPDATE - The Tories squash the deal, for now.