Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On predictable problems

Yes, the news that the Muskowekwan First Nation may soon see its own potash development is a plus in many ways. But it's worth pointing out how the story might have been important to the provincial election campaign which concluded earlier this month.

After all, one of the Sask Party's main hot-button issues was to slam the idea that resource revenues might someday be shared with Saskatchewan's First Nations. And under those circumstances, it's hard to blame any given First Nation for figuring it'll never see a dime out of the province, and thus deciding to go it alone in pushing resource development.

Which is just another reason why a royalty-sharing agreement - as proposed by the NDP - would make a world of sense: by assembling a united front based on agreed revenue-sharing, the province could actually maintain whatever strategic advantage it currently holds in managing potash resources.

In contrast, the existence of overlapping jurisdictions and competing royalty rates carries the potential for disaster. There can't be much doubt that the next step in pushing royalty rates down even further will involve Wall and company pointing to any First Nation that's willing to offer a lower price for its own potash. And as part of the potash sector's regular focus on wealth extraction, I'm sure it'll come up with loopholes between the various levels of government - say, by making sure that it can count development on First Nations land as a credit against provincial royalties, while counting on paying only a lower band-based royalty rate at the point where the provincial system is supposed to provide for an increase.

Of course, the prospect of multiple governments getting into royalty bidding wars and jurisdictional quagmires to shuffle yet more free money into the hands of the potash sector is surely exactly what Brad Wall and his corporate cronies want to see. But Saskatchewan's citizens may want to take a hard look at whether they're prepared to harm both the province and First Nations alike in an effort to avoid transferring any resource revenues from the former to the latter.

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