Monday, November 29, 2010

PCS’s commitment to Sask.


Deafening jeers filled the legislature during Question Period on Nov. 4. The Sask. Party and the Opposition NDP were at each other's throats about the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan's pledge to the province and potash royalties. Speaker of the House Don Toth had to call the members to order 15 times during the discussion.

Only the day before, the federal government rejected BHP Billiton's US$38.6 billion hostile takeover bid of PCS. Industry Minister Tony Clement stated that the bid didn't provide a “net benefit” to Canada under the Investment Canada Act, but he did give BHP 30 days to review their options.

During that time frame, the Sask. Party is working towards ensuring that PCS keeps its pledge. The agreement is informal at this point but Premier Brad Wall said to reporters that he is confident that PCS will honour the agreement.

“I don’t have an expectation that they’re going to do anything but what they’ve pledged...but verification would come with potentially a more formal agreement,” said Wall.

NDP Opposition Leader Dwain Lingenfelter told journalists that the NDP plants to pressure the Sask. Party to get the pledge in writing. He believes that Saskatchewan needs to “raise the bar” for the net benefit of PCS so Clement cannot approve BHP’s next bid.

“I think that would make it much, much more difficult for this hostile takeover or any other hostile takeover that might be waiting in the wings,” said Lingenfelter.

The PCS pledge involves seven commitments to the people of the province, including moving the headquarters from Chicago to Saskatoon. During Question Period, the Sask. Party was on Lingenfelter's case about potash royalties. The Sask. Party believes that the current royalty structure works well and it shouldn't be changed.

“The argument that I make is that it doesn’t matter what the federal government’s doing. It’s our resource and we can control how much we take, the taxation level, the review of the royalties, which I think should happen now,” said Lingenfelter afterwards.

He contends that many people in Saskatchewan would like to get higher revenue for potash. The money could then be used to re-invest in potash or for health care or schools. Lingenfelter also suggested state ownership of the potash industry.

The Saskatchewan government predicted in its 2010-11 budget that potash royalties would produce $221 million, compared to an estimated $183.9 million in the 2009-10 budget, a 20 per cent increase. The total provincial revenue estimated for 2010-11 is $10.1 billion. Potash royalties are expected to generate one-fifth of oil and gas sectors of the economy.

Wall fiercely defended the present royalties, stating that they are beneficial to Saskatchewan and shouldn't be changed.

“I fundamentally disagree with Mr. Lingenfelter that what we want to do is mess with the royalties. We have made changes. We've made changes recently. The changes have got us to the point where there is an unprecedented expansion in the industry creating wealth and jobs for Saskatchewan people,” said Wall.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Artifacts have continental importance

Photo by Lisa Goudy


Sandy lands stretched across the horizon in Mortlach, Sask. Farmers worked the land with little money and equipment. With the drought in the 1920s and the depression in the 1930s, many people moved into the village to live out the rest of their lives. But the great winds stirred up the earth, removing the top soil and exposing many artifacts from original cultures, including arrowheads. People began to collect them, having no idea how significant these relics really were.

Dale Walde, a professor of archaeology at the University of Calgary, is an expert on the Mortlach site. Often referred to as ‘Dr. Mortlach,’ Walde has been involved with the site since he wrote his dissertation in 1988. The site itself was excavated in 1954 under provincial archaeologist Boyd Wettlaufer and it was the first specialized archaeological dig done in Saskatchewan. Artifacts found in the area, like arrowheads, form the foundation of knowledge archaeologists have about the progression of Saskatchewan’s early history. Some of these artifacts, including Clovis points, are 13, 000 years old.

“The whole sequence has been found in the Mortlach area, right from when the people who dropped the (Clovis) points were probably seeing the edge of the glaciers to virtually what we see today,” said Walde.

Clovis points, Walde explained, are the first recognised indicative points found extensively across North America. They are tools from the late ice age Clovis culture. Their existence proves that people have been in Canada for a long time.

“We keep talking about Canada as a young country, but in fact there were people here 13, 000 years ago...we need to think of ourselves as part of a long history, not a very brief blip,” said Walde.

Back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, it was very common for people to collect arrowheads and other artifacts. People kept shoeboxes and drawers full of arrowheads and it was a competition to see who found the most. One of the most prominent and famed collectors who put Mortlach on the map was Kenneth Francis Harris (Casey) Jones.

Bernie Forbes, a resident of Mortlach, collected many arrowheads as a child and knew Jones personally. Jones, he explained, was a carpenter, painter, and amateur archaeologist. He loved entertaining kids on the street corner. Bernie remembers how he used to pretend to eat grasshoppers and frogs, which sent all of the children running.

“Everybody loved Casey. Everybody knew Casey,” said Forbes. “And even today in archaeological circles everybody has heard of Casey Jones and his collection of artifacts.”

In 1924, Jones found Folsom points in the Mortlach area. The points dated back 20,000 years. The only other ones found in the entire world were in Folsom, New Mexico. Jones’ discovery demonstrated that early humans were in North America, and there were also different tribes. This attracted the attention of many archaeologists in United States centres, such as the Smithsonian Institute, and Mortlach received a great deal of publicity.

“He’s the individual that brought fame to the community and he certainly earned it,” said Forbes.

Larry Forbes, Bernie’s brother, remembers when he used to do chores for Jones. Jones hit his knee with a hammer in a carpentry accident, contracted gangrene, and had to get his leg amputated in 1956. Young Larry used to retrieve his mail, buy him groceries, and fetch coal for his stove, among other things. He also went out looking for arrowheads with Jones.

“You’d drive down the road, you’d see a field that was blowing so you’d just stop the truck and get out and walk around the field. It’s great when you can look down and see an arrowhead laying there and find it and pick it up.”

But Jones was “as poor as a church mouse” according to Bernie Forbes. He had no money and little to eat in the Dirty ’30s. Consequently, he sold most of his collection to U.S. collectors and later to the Glenbow Institute in Calgary. It took almost two and a half weeks to pack away his entire collection, which is now under the supervision of Walde. The Institute’s mostly private collection is used as a “backbone for plains archaeology training in Calgary” said Walde. Walde hopes to initiate a centre in Mortlach to bring Jones’ collection back home. He believes it is essential for people to know the history of their home region.

“When we tell the story of Mortlach, we’re essentially telling the story of the continent,” he explained. “Certainly it’s a locally oriented story but nothing happens in isolation.”