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Provincial Politics Business and politics clash in potash debate

There is one big difference between business and politics. Business has one clear a philosophy that clearly works well for business. In politics, however, it's never quite that clear-cut.

There is one big difference between business and politics.

Business has one clear a philosophy that clearly works well for business. In politics, however, it's never quite that clear-cut.

No matter how supposedly committed politicians to whichever philosophy they have, politicians invariably have to adjust, tinker and invariably justify why they are departing from their beliefs.

And if ever you needed evidence of this difference, look no further than the recent meeting between Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall and BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers to discuss the latter's $$38.6-billion bid to takeover PotashCorp.

Wall, as we all know, was weaned on the Progressive Conservatives' philosophy of the 1980s that was all about support for privatization and big business expansion in Saskatchewan, as right-wing and business-oriented a an government as Saskatchewan has seen. And while the Sask. Party leader has distanced himself from Grant Devine's approach on issues live privatization, Wall's support for tougher labour laws, fewer trade restrictions, lower corporate taxes and business expansion has left little doubt that he is a right-wing politician.

Kloppers, with whom you are likely less familiar, is certainly one of movers and shakers in the business world. He become president of BHP Billiton (the world's largest mining company) in 2007 at the relatively tend age of 44 years. In fact, the South African was instrumental in the merger of BHP and Billiton that created the giant mining conglomerate and was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the 25 most powerful business people in the entire world.

Given all this, one might think that Wall and Kloppers would have gotten along smashingly when they recently met in Saskatoon. Undoubtedly, they did get along. Wall is certainly an amiable fellow and, having talked to Kloppers, one is left with the impression he is as well.

But they certainly didn't agree on the merits of BHP Billiton's takeover bid,

"One of the key questions in the investment review process is: 'Is this a net benefit to Saskatchewan?' " Wall told reporters shortly after his meeting with Kloppers. "To put it in a more pointed way: 'Is Saskatchewan better off?'

"I guess my views may change. We're working through this process very diligently and we're doing our homework and the Conference Board of Canada will report. But as of today, I don't know we're better off."

Even more intriguing is what seems to be the source of the right-of-centre Premier's misgivings, misgivings that come despite BHP Billiton's assurance of maintaining a head office presence in Saskatoon, developing a new mine at Jansen and expanding existing PotashCorp. operations in this province.

Evidently, the problem was Kloppers's blunt insistence that BHP Billiton would not be part of Canpotex, the marketing arm of Canadian potash sold abroad that's considered by many as the Canadian potash version of the OPEC cartel. Kloppers maintained his preference is to market his product on its own without such restrictions.

That this would be the deal-breaker for Wall would seem at odds with his philosophical view. After all, this Premier and his government have vehemently opposed farmers' mandatory participation in the Canadian Wheat Board, a somewhat similar market agency for grain. Surely there's a philosophical principle for Wall to maintain here, isn't there?

Well, this gets to the heart of the fundamental difference between businessmen and politician.

Businessmen like Kloppers have the luxury of sticking to their purely capitalist view of the world. But for politicians like Wall who have to worry about things like maintaining control of our resources and maximizing royalties we get for them, it gets slightly more complicated.

Like so many politicians before,left right and centre, Wall found a need to abandon his supposed philosophy in the name of doing what he believes is right for Saskatchewan people.