Region 5 | Letters

Letter – Crown land leaseholders deserve vote

Since 2016 Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP) and Manitoba Ministers of Agriculture have badly served 1,700 Manitoba Agricultural Crown Land Lease holders and destroyed the points-based unit transfer system. This is a scandal.

It is a scandal that was disguised as ‘red tape cutting’ and driven by the erroneous idea that agricultural Crown land access for cattle production needed fixing. To quote MBP on the topic, in the March 2017 issue of its Cattle Country magazine: “… the Minister of Agriculture has announced his goal of increasing the provincial cattle herd to pre-BSE numbers and critical to this will be increased access to agriculture Crown land in Manitoba.” Apparently, the minister and MBP targeted the points-based lease transfer system for stopping access to land for cow production.

But, six years later, has the goal of the minister and MBP been met? Their goal left out the interests and needs of Manitobans, even if there is a desire to increase the size of the cow herd. But the move to ‘flexible transfer’ was really a move to the highest dollar bid auction for the transfer of agricultural Crown land lease units from 2020 onward.

It’s unfortunate this is the path that was chosen. The poor cattle market situation had a larger effect on ranchers’ ability to access Crown land than the transfer system of the time, as did drought and flooding.

The MBP is now backpedalling on their and the ministers’ ill-advised highest bidder unit transfer system. And the minister is now saying 50 per cent of the fee increases for 2023 will be forgiven — which I will note makes it clear there WAS an increase — and there will be a 33 per cent hold on the increase for next year. But this is simply pushing the province’s money grab a bit further into the future, and the full rate will eventually be applied.

The lease auctions are no longer held face-to-face and the new rules with shorter 15-year leases have devalued the assets of retiring Crown land lease holders. Retirement plans are in disarray and difficulty.

At the other end of the spectrum, young ranchers are now burdened to finance an up-front auction bid, and lease fees that are now three times higher, all for the shorter lease terms. Will this young leaseholder be secure on the next 15-year lease?

To further confuse the situation is the fact that lease conditions are not clear about any option to transfer the lease to the next willing generation. Under the previous system, transfer to the next generation was available by the points system and asset transfer was recognized and paid to the retiree.

The higher fees and auction fees are both new revenue for the province. But that ignores a larger hit to the provincial bottom line in the form of hollowed-out rural communities. That’s because there’s no longer a requirement that bidders on Manitoba Crown lands be Manitoba residents, and there’s no requirement for leaseholders to live on, or even near, their lease.

It’s said that so far the province has collected an additional $5 million in revenue from the new lease system. If that is so — and I admit that at this point it’s only a rumour — that would represent more than 3300 steers, at a market value of $1,500. How does this increase the provincial cattle herd? Who does MBP and the minister ask to raise those 3300 steers?

I live next to some Crown lands, and I am concerned for my neighbours and worry about the ongoing management of Crown land. MBP and I know this is a public asset and Treaty land.

I am calling — and lease holders need to call for – the provincial government to hold a referendum amongst agricultural Crown land leaseholders from 2015 to now and ask the critical question: Do leaseholders wish to see the province stop its highest bidder system and restore the points-based system and more reasonable leasing fees?

It’s a simple yes-or-no question.

Ian L. Robson

Deleau, Man.