NFU Submission on Manitoba Agricultural Crown Land Amendment Act (Bill 35)

Presented to the Social and Economic Committee of the Manitoba Legislature on October 31, 2018

Thank you for considering our comments on the proposed Crown Lands Amendment Act, Bill 35.

I am here today representing members of the National Farmers Union in Manitoba and farmers who are unable to speak for themselves due to timing of this meeting and distance to the Manitoba Legislature.

The Manitoba government has frequently proclaimed its support for farmers, especially young farmers. And so it is especially baffling that, with little notice, Halloween night at 6pm has been chosen to speak on this and any government Bill. The lack of respect of turning a fun night into something truly horrible for farmers could not be more ironic. Community based ranchers will, from this point forward be asking “Why has the Ag Minister played a trick on us?”

Is this Bill for real? Do you not think real, substantial consultation is appropriate? The National Farmers Union and its members haven’t been brought into even one consultation on the issue.

Perhaps the government itself is scared because it knows the real consequences to farmers. The Crown Lands Amendment Act, Bill 35, contains clauses which are a direct harm to all cattle ranchers and will especially harm Manitoba’s young cattle farmers and their families.

Clauses 7.2(2) b and c, and 7.2(3) of Bill 35, which allows the establishment of lease fees and pasture rents by auction, are completely unacceptable. Neglecting to include a point system which considers a farmer’s proximity to a lease, neglecting to give points for young farmers, neglecting to even consider if a bidder is a resident farmer at all, are completely unacceptable.

An auction is a poor and unfair way to establish a price. There are better ways to establish a fair market price for pasture rents and Crown land leases. A survey of the private rents being paid for pasture would be one logical way to establish a fair market price. Bill 35 bases a lease or rental price solely on a bid, where the only criterion that matters is the highest price, and which throws young ranchers into competition with the highest absentee, out of province corporate bidder. This is bad agricultural policy for any province.

One of our cattle operating members states:
“This government often proclaims its desire to reduce red tape. It is notable that the new Crown Land lease system does not reduce any red tape for farmers. It might reduce red tape for government itself, and perhaps this is the intent, but that red tape would only be reduced if the new price as established by bid were to be applied across all leases, regardless of the accessibility or the grazing quality of the land. Doing so might cut corners in the process, but the result is unfairly high rents for cattle ranchers for the poorer quality leases. Again, this is bad agricultural policy.“

I just talked to another farm family on the phone yesterday.

The son is 28 and his parents are in their 50’s. They’re having to move because community pasture area has been taken up by Saskatchewan cattle in the community pasture in their area and their land base isn’t big enough. When seeking to purchase land, they’ve come up with some real challenges that we don’t see addressed by the bill. Here’s their question:
“One of our concerns is the price that ranchers are asking for their ranches when they only have a small parcel of deeded land and a lot of crown they are putting way too much value on the crown and it is something that you will never own. Plus a bank will not lend money on crown. Also how secure is the crown? Will it be yours after you spend all this money buying a ranch only to lose it to another rancher that bids more for the crown?”

You see even private land prices that are not crown land are already speculatively going up on their value due to these changes you are making. And private land tied to public land leases with no transfer guarantees or even a “highly likeness” of transfer are being put into the parcels. In this instance something that was assessed at $200,000 was being priced at $900,000. As if cattle ranching wasn’t enough of a gamble.

We are in a large generational transition and it is ludicrous that start-up and young Manitoba farmers are being pushed out of the way by this bill.

If the government wanted to shift production out of the hands of ranch families and into the hands of out-of-province corporations, and especially direct harm to young ranch families, then Bill 35 would achieve this. If government still owns the land, then why are they unwilling to be good stewards with it?

The National Farmers Union believes all of us should be wanting: More Farmers. Not Less.

Do you honestly think that large-operator, employee-based operations are an efficient way to raise cattle? If so, you are wrong. Ranch families have absolutely proven to be the most efficient cow-calf production system due to their hands-on approach, attention to detail, and their ability to bring up dedicated young farmers who contribute to their communities. Employee based, large operations simply do not have the same commitment to success which is critical to an industry which deals in mother cows and the birth of their calves.

Bill 35 will not “cut red tape for farmers”. Instead these amendments will transfer access to grazing land away from young cattle farmers and into the hands of the elite. This government, through passing this bill has decided to throw those efficient young cattle ranchers to the wolves in an auction for Crown land leases in which no family could out compete the deep pockets of pension plans or Cargill or Your Friendly Multi-Provincial Ranch Company.

Bill 35 as it stands is clearly a government cash grab on the backs of young cattle ranchers. Moving to simplified highest bidder only scenarios contributes to the elimination of the next generation of efficient ranching families.

This Halloween, rip up this nightmare Bill. Return to the point system for assigning crown land leases and fight for: More Farmers. Not Less.

Thank you for considering our submission.

National Farmers Union – Manitoba (Region 5)
Ian Robson, Regional Coordinator ilrobson@xplornet.ca (204) 858-2479‬
Dean Harder, Regional Representative dean@mts.net (204) 797-6388
Murray Jowett, Youth Advocate murrayjowett@gmail.com ‭(204) 807-0877‬‬


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