Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Selling SaskTel Potential Landmine for Brad Wall Government: Prof

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Selling SaskTel Potential Landmine for Brad Wall Government: Prof

Article excerpt

Selling SaskTel potential landmine: prof

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SASKATOON - A political science professor says selling Saskatchewan's provincially owned telecommunications company could create a bad connection between Premier Brad Wall and voters.

University of Saskatchewan professor Charles Smith says SaskTel is doing well and is affordable.

"It provides a level of stability in the telecom industry, especially for rural areas, which is why I think it's going to be difficult for him to move forward," says Smith.

"Maybe you could argue that there will be more competition within the cities, you know, Saskatoon, Regina, and Moose Jaw or (Prince Albert), but there's a much more difficult argument to make in the rural areas."

Smith suggests part of the reason behind a potential sale could be because the government is cash-strapped and needs to cover a $1.2 billion deficit.

"For me, it's odd and I think it's short-sighted and it would be surprising if they move forward in any aggressive way at this point."

Smith also notes that the proposed takeover of Manitoba Telecom Services by Bell Media would leave SaskTel as the last regional carrier in Western Canada and make it vulnerable to a sale.

The government says there's no offer for SaskTel right now.

Wall has said the government won't sell SaskTel without holding a referendum on the idea.

He repeated that this week to the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention, adding that the move would not be deficit driven.

But a referendum isn't cut and dry either.

In a letter to politicians last September, Saskatchewan's chief electoral officer, Michael Boda, said the legal framework for referendums or plebiscites hasn't been updated in 25 years.

Boda outlined four options for the government.

One option is to have a referendum at the same time as a general election, but Saskatchewan voters went to the polls last April and the next election won't be held until Nov. 2, 2020.

A referendum could be held on its own, but that could cost $21 million because it would essentially mirror what takes place for a general vote. …

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