Clear message on farmland ownership: loopholes must be fixed

The results of a recent government survey show it has had the wrong approach to farmland ownership, and more needs to be done to prevent foreign and institutional ownership of Saskatchewan farmland.

Loopholes in The Saskatchewan Farm Ownership Act allowed a massive sale of Saskatchewan farmland to an institutional investor, and concerns remain that foreign dollars may still back farmland purchases.

The survey released Tuesday by the Government of Saskatchewan shows that the vast majority of Saskatchewan people do not want foreign ownership of Saskatchewan farmland, large institutional investors buying farmland, or foreign money backing farmland purchases. The survey also showed that 85 per cent of people want the government to do a better job enforcing that.

Yet, the Sask. Party watched and took no action while Assiniboia Farmland sold 115,000 acres that produces wheat, barley, canola and other crops to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. That deal closed in early 2014. Assiniboia’s co-founders are the Sask. Party’s former executive director and a former senior advisor to Brad Wall.

“The Sask. Party sat idle while their friends at Assiniboia arranged a $128-million deal for themselves  – and it’s really regrettable that the horse may be out of the barn on that sale,” said NDP Agriculture critic Cathy Sproule. “Now that the government knows Saskatchewan people don’t support this approach, it needs to put its ideology aside, and fix the rules.”

Sproule said the government’s actions now must include:

  • Changing The Saskatchewan Farm Ownership Act to close the loophole and prevent investment boards from owning Saskatchewan farmland;
  • Improving the legal disclosure of capital sources so the Farm Land Security Board can identify not just the name on the land title, but also the financial backers of the purchase.
  • Stepping up enforcement, giving the Farm Land Security Board the tools it needs, including legislative tools, to ensure Saskatchewan farmland is maintained as a strategic resource, free from foreign interests.

Sproule also said the results of an investigation into rumours that foreign money is backing farmland purchases need to be made public. That investigation took place in 2012, yet the parameters of the investigation, as well as the results and all reports stemming from that investigation have been withheld by the Sask. Party.

“Did the Sask. Party really look into those concerns in comprehensive way? We have no way of knowing because they haven't been open and transparent,” said Sproule. “Selling off a strategic resource and driving up the price of farmland so young Saskatchewan farmers are driven out of the market is a concern this government should take very seriously.”