The idea of selling SaskTel, the sole major telco in Western Canada, has the potential of poisoning the relationship between Premier Brad Wall and voters, according to University of Saskatchewan professor Charles Smith. Especially given that 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 has an idea why the government is playing with the idea of selling SaskTel: the $1.2 billion deficit it wants to cover.
“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.”
While there is no offer for SaskTel right now, Wall said the government will hold a referendum before selling the telco. But the problem seems to be that the legal framework for referendums hasn’t been updated in 25 years, according to Saskatchewan’s chief electoral officer, Michael Boda.
There are several options, however. The first: The government will take a $21 million bill for holding a referendum because it would essentially mirror what takes place for a general vote. The second—and Boda’s recommended option—would be a mail-in vote, but since there is no legal framework for that, it would need to be created. The third option would be an electronic or phone vote, but, again, the legal framework is missing.
And to organize elections, the government needs a minimum of 164 days to get ready, and the $4 million cost needs to be considered as well.
As a result, Smith says the referendum is unlikely, and the government would be more apt to sell shares in SaskTel.