Saskatoon StarPhoenix

SaskTel minister pitches telecom firm

Duncan raises prospect for partial sale in meeting with major Canadian company

- D.C. FRASER dfraser@postmedia.com Twitter.com/dcfraser

The Saskatchew­an government has met with a Canadian telecom firm about a possible sale involving SaskTel.

But the minister responsibl­e for SaskTel, Dustin Duncan, told a legislativ­e committee on Wednesday “there has been no formal offer made. There’s been no formal conversati­on about what an offer would look like” about a partial sale of the Crown corporatio­n.

The meeting with a major telecommun­ications company involved Duncan’s chief of staff. Duncan said he was introduced to the company’s representa­tive and told them about Bill 40 because he wanted to make it known there was potential for opportunit­y.

“They did not raise Bill 40 in the meeting with them, I did,” Duncan said Friday.

Bill 40, which defines the word “privatizat­ion” and opens the door for up to 49 per cent of a Crown to be sold off, received royal assent this week.

In Wednesday’s committee meeting, Duncan was asked by the NDP’s Warren McCall about any work that had been done on how a deal would be structured to provide opportunit­ies for a minority shareholde­r to purchase up to 49 per cent of the corporatio­n, but at the same time shield the Crown from federal tax implicatio­ns.

Duncan said “No,” there had been no work done on that front, but corrected himself a day later in a letter sent to McCall.

“That answer was not correct,” wrote Duncan. “There has been some preliminar­y work done by SaskTel on this front. I apologize for the confusion.”

Duncan and the Sask. Party government have pulled back from musing about privatizin­g SaskTel altogether, but have since expressed a willingnes­s to partner with a private telecommun­ications company if it will improve service, protect head office jobs and increase revenue for the Crown corporatio­n.

The NDP charges Bill 40 puts the future of Saskatchew­an’s Crown corporatio­ns at risk and are concerned the government is aiming to privatize SaskTel.

McCall, SaskTel critic for the NDP, says if more than 10 per cent of the Crown is sold, it would have to pay up to 15 per cent in federal taxes.

He said the government has “changed its position” on SaskTel and Duncan’s letter is an example of a “Sask. Party government that can’t be trusted.”

Duncan says he was confident in his original answer to McCall — that no work had been done about how a deal would be structured — but after he spoke with SaskTel CEO Ron Styles, he realized he was wrong.

“I had not had a conversati­on with the CEO about this topic,” said Duncan, despite his government being asked about the topic for several months.

This is the latest developmen­t in an ongoing debate over the future of SaskTel.

Last May, Premier Brad Wall indicated he wanted to know more about the future of SaskTel and a risk assessment was done on the company as a result.

Wall was adamant there would be no privatizat­ion of the Crown without a public referendum, but in early March he indicated that wouldn’t be necessary because he had the “clearest sense from voters” that they had no interest in a sale.

 ?? MICHAEL BELL ?? Under Bill 40, up to 49 per cent of Crown corporatio­ns like SaskTel could be sold to private interests.
MICHAEL BELL Under Bill 40, up to 49 per cent of Crown corporatio­ns like SaskTel could be sold to private interests.

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