Talks ongoing: A partnership for SaskTel?

REGINA — The minister responsible for SaskTel says talks are going on at the executive level about potential partnerships for the Crown-owned telecommunications company.

Dustin Duncan says enough information has come in at a high level that it needs to be more fully investigated.

Duncan won’t say what companies the Saskatchewan government and Crown executives have met with or what any partnership might look like.

He says he doesn’t want to leave the impression that something is going to happen.

Duncan says the government might decide not to pursue anything.

Soon after the 2016 election, Premier Brad Wall talked about entertaining offers to sell SaskTel, but he backed off when public feedback strongly suggested the Crown be left alone.

“There needs to be further work to investigate what a fulsome partnership would look like,” Duncan said at the release of SaskTel’s annual report Tuesday.

The Opposition New Democrats say the government isn’t providing any certainty for the Crown or the people who work there.

“They have a hard time coming forward with clear answers as to the future of SaskTel, as to what partnerships, as they see them, mean for SaskTel and what backdoor meetings are they having,” NDP MLA Warren McCall said.

Duncan said certain questions will be asked and have to be answered before the government would move forward.

“How does this improve SaskTel as a company going forward in the future? How does it ensure that we protect the head office? How do we … grow jobs in Saskatchewan? How do we improve services? How do we improve coverage?”

The ongoing financial success of SaskTel is evident in its annual report. For 2016-17, net income was $134.8 million — an increase of almost 29 million from the previous year.

Revenue also grew and there was a small decline in operating expenses.

Dividends of $30 million were provided back to the Crown Investment Corp.

Some critics have said the government was looking at a potential sale because it’s cash-strapped and needs to cover a $1.2-billion deficit.

The takeover of Manitoba Telecom Services by Bell Media leaves SaskTel as the last regional carrier in Western Canada.

An assessment released in June 2016 said the MTS takeover poses serious regulatory, competitive and financial risks for SaskTel.

The government introduced legislation last fall that would allow it to sell up to 49 per cent of a Crown without the move being considered privatization.

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