13 November 2014

Potash: An Inside Account of Saskatchewan’s Pink Gold
by John Burton
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Keith Foster
$34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-314-1

When Rita MacNeil sang “Working Man” about “Men of the Deep,” she wasn’t referring to Saskatchewan’s potash miners, but she might just as well have been. Some of these mines are more than 3,000 feet underground, and at that depth, danger lurks.

Rather than dealing with the dangers below, John Burton focuses on the threat above ground. He fears that Saskatchewan may lose this precious resource to privatization. The value of potash is reflected in his tantalizing subtitle, Pink Gold.

Burton explores the history of potash production in Saskatchewan from its beginning in 1942 to the present. He knows what he’s talking about. As a close associate of NDP Premier Allan Blakeney and a former board member of the Crown-owned Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, he’s in a position to provide the inside scoop.

Burton claims that the aggressive potash development policy of Ross Thatcher’s Liberal government brought about a “crisis that almost brought the industry to its knees.” He notes, “There were even suggestions that some ministers and officials would be arrested if they entered the United States.”

Burton excels in his rich character descriptions, describing NDP cabinet minister Gordon MacMurchy as “a lean, lanky, ‘no nonsense’ kind of man with a big square jaw” and “a deep, rich voice that carried a ring of authority.”

A highlight of Burton’s book is his revelation of a secret room – known as “the bunker room” – in the basement of the Legislative Building. Here, Burton and a handful of NDP stalwarts secretly prepared legislation to expropriate the potash companies’ assets in Saskatchewan – legislation so controversial it drew the attention of international interests as far-reaching as the American Central Intelligence Agency.

Who would have thought this largely undeveloped resource, virtually unheard of 70 years ago, could create such a stir.


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