Premier Brad Wall is expressing cautious optimism over the massive agriculture merger between PotashCorp and Agrium this week.
The outgoing premier said he’s had discussions with the leadership team of Nutrien, the merged company’s new name, and is encouraged by their commitments to Saskatchewan.
Nutrien, which started operations Tuesday, will locate their head office in Saskatoon with corporate offices in Calgary and Denver, Co.
Wall said he received assurances Saskatoon’s corporate centre would be the only Nutrien office to see an increase in employment, jumping 15 per cent to 300 staff.
He added the government has been told the company is also moving two new business operations to the province, though the details of these will be revealed by Nutrien at a later date.
Wall noted the promises are a continuation of a pledge made by PotashCorp in 2011, when the government defended them against a takeover from BHP Billiton.
“We indicated it was important for Canada to have national champions in the corporate sector,” he said.
“You can make the case Nutrien is an even more significant champion for the country, and it will be headquartered in Saskatoon.”
Concern has been raised by business analysts and the NDP opposition that while the head office is registered in Saskatoon, the true centre of operations will be in Calgary.
CEO Chuck Magro, formerly head of Agrium, plans to continue living in the Alberta city while his children attend school. He will also have his own office in the Saskatoon centre.
“We don’t know what that’s going to mean for the long-term viability of the head office in Saskatchewan,” interim NDP leader Nicole Sarauer said.
“We’re talking about this now, but what about two years from now? Five years from now, when we’re not talking about this merger?”
She suggested the government should have focused on ensuring Nutrien will maintain jobs in the province, with legislated penalties if the company reneged.
“Being ‘cautiously optimistic’ as the premier has said is not doing what they should be doing, which is rolling up their sleeves and talking with that company to ensure a long-term commitment,” Sarauer said.
Wall said he’s encouraged by the fact Jochen Tilk, Nutrien’s executive board chairman and former Potash Corp. CEO, will remain in Saskatoon.
“Maybe down the road … that CEO’s position will be in Saskatoon permanently as well,” he said.
The premier added he’ll be advising the next premier of Saskatchewan to keep a close eye on the company’s employment levels in the province.
“I think it’s important for whoever is next in my position, and for the government going forward, to be vigilant and make sure these commitments to our province are maintained,” he said.
Wall also noted he is confident the merger won’t directly affect front-line mining jobs, though market pressures could result in other hirings or layoffs.
—With files from 980 CJME’s Jessika Guse.
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