November 4, 2010 / 12:15 AM / in 7 years

Potash suspense sets Canadian capital a-twitter

OTTAWA (Reuters) - It was like watching the seventh game of the World Series or results of a cliff-hanger election. But in fact the wave of nervous anticipation that overtook the Canadian capital this week was all about ... fertilizer.

The Canadian government’s decision on the biggest corporate takeover bid of the year -- BHP Billiton’s offer to buy Potash Corp -- was the best kept secret in town.

In the tension-filled hours leading up to the announcement rumors swirled in the newspapers, politicians ratcheted up the rhetoric and all that nervous energy was reflected on Twitter.

“I cannot wait for the potashdecision! It’s like watching the World Series, if the World Series was about fertilizer!,” wrote one person on the popular information network.

Another mused about the newfound obsession of Canadians, widely viewed as a mild-mannered if somewhat boring people.

“New American friends, now you see why Canadians are such nice people. We spend hours waiting for an announcement about a mineral.”

Only federal elections or budgets usually draw as chaotic a crowd of journalists to Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, which filled late Wednesday with television cameras and lights waiting for Industry Minister Tony Clement to deliver his final verdict on the BHP bid.

In August, BHP launched its takeover attempt for Saskatchewan-based Potash, one of the world’s top producers of the crop nutrient used in fertilizer.

The decision was a tough one for the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It had to weigh the political cost of allowing a prized natural resource fall into foreign hands against safeguarding its reputation as a free trader that welcomes foreign investment.

Even the most hardened hacks in Ottawa were hedging their bets on which way Ottawa would lean. One Ottawa financial journalist referred on Twitter to the media frenzy as a “Potash Burlesque.” Others wrote “The suspense is killing us!” and “Dear Tony Clement ... end the madness.”

At long last Clement announced he was rejecting the bid, giving BHP 30 days to reconsider its position as required under the law.

The reaction online?

“No means ‘maybe’ for potash bid,” someone wrote.

Reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Frank McGurty

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