Saskatchewan Premier Prefers Outright Sale to IPO for SaskTel

  • No proposal for privatizing government-owned telecom on table
  • Any deal for loosening government control requires referendum

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he’d prefer to sell the province’s government-owned telecom provider rather than take it public -- as long as a sale passed a referendum.

Saskatchewan Telecommunications Holding Corp., known as SaskTel, is Canada’s last major government-owned telecommunications provider and one of the few remaining regional carriers, after Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. agreed to be acquired by Montreal-based telecom giant BCE Inc. in May. National carriers BCE, Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. serve 90 percent of Canadian wireless customers.

“If a deal like the MTS deal came before the people of Saskatchewan, who own SaskTel, I think I would have a duty to ask them what they thought,” Wall told reporters Tuesday in Toronto. Wall said he wasn’t interested in ending government control by selling SaskTel shares on the open market, like Manitoba did with MTS in the late 1990s.

“The only way that this other scenario is an option is if we get a proposal,” Wall said. The government hasn’t received any takeover bids.

Canada’s telecommunications industry is undergoing consolidation. Toronto-based Rogers bought Mobilicity last June, and BCE expects its C$3.1 billion ($2.4 billion) acquisition of MTS to close around the end of the year. It will then sell around a third of MTS subscribers to Telus, based in Vancouver. SaskTel has slightly higher revenue and more subscribers than MTS.

This acquisition trend and the fact that Wall’s right-leaning government recently won a big parliamentary majority might make it an ideal time to try and sell, Ken Rasmussen, a professor at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina, said in an interview last month.