A series of land purchases in central Saskatchewan have farmers questioning the effectiveness of the province’s land ownership law.
The Saskatchewan Farm Security Act is supposed to prevent non-residents from owning more than 320 acres of farmland. But the legislation isn’t working, says a farmer from the Naicam area.
Doug Hardy said a man from British Columbia has bought about 40 quarters of farmland in the rural municipalities of Pleasantdale and Barrier Valley. The land is owned by two numbered companies and the 3L Cattle Company Ltd., which are 100 percent controlled by Violet Presber and Darsey Hall, according to corporate registries.
Although Hall and Presber, both Saskatchewan residents, are listed as the owners of these companies, Hardy said Dave Dutcyvich, a resident of Port McNeill, B.C., financed the land deals.
He’s putting the land in the name of his sister (Presber) and the rancher he employs (Hall), said Hardy.
“It’s still his money, it’s still his place, he still runs it,” said Hardy, whose ranch borders some of the land in question. “It’s still somebody from out of the province buying it and he’s buying pretty big chunks here. If (the government) is going to allow this to happen, then there’s going to be a whole bunch more people do this.”
Dutcyvich insists everything is above-board with the large grain and cattle operation he and his sister operate.
“I dealt with the land board on it and it’s all legal.”
The person who oversees farm ownership issues at the province’s Farm Land Security Board said the Dutcyvich case meets the requirements of the legislation, but admits the act “could be abused.”
“If somebody wants to have an underlying partnership agreement, but doesn’t tell you about it, what can you do?” said Jim Chernick.
“I suppose it’s like any other act or law or something. How far can you look into it?”
But a land title search of one of the 40 quarter sections in question reveals that Lemare Lake Logging Ltd. of Port McNeill, B.C., held an $86,500 mortgage on the land. That logging company belongs to Dave Dutcyvich.
Hardy wonders how a B.C. resident can get away with this when last month the Saskatchewan government killed a deal that would have sold a 1,500-acre seed farm near Bangor, Sask., to a Manitoba buyer. The deal would have allowed the farmer to stay on the farm after the deal.
A private member’s bill was introduced March 19 that would change the 1974 law and allow Canadian citizens to own more than 320 acres, but its prospects for success are thought to be limited.
Dutcyvich said he doesn’t see the problem with his arrangement. He said he simply helps manage the operation.
“I’m involved in it, but my sister is the owner of it and I help manage it. That’s basically it.”
When asked who bankrolled the land purchases, Dutcyvich said: “You know what? I really don’t think that it’s anybody’s business whose money it is. My sister owns it, it’s legal, so why shouldn’t it be what it is?”
Hardy contends Dutcyvich is providing the money for the land purchases and is ultimately running the ranching and grain operation.
Dutcyvich also leaves little doubt about who controls the strings.
“I’m creating a few jobs … and I got a rancher that’s there, he’s got his family there. I’ve got a farmer that’s farming there.”
Hardy said locals are unhappy that the land is being purchased. He is also upset with the way some of the land that borders his property, which he said should be declared critical wildlife habitat, is being broken up and developed.
Dutcyvich is outraged that locals seem to be labeling him as a foreigner buying up land.
“I was born and raised there, for Christ’s sake. I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I was born and raised in Watson. My folks lived in Watson and I intend to live back there again.”
But according to the act, it doesn’t matter where buyers used to live or where they intend to live. The only way a person can buy more than 320 acres in Saskatchewan is if they live in the province for at least 183 days in any year. One exception to the rule is if the land is acquired from a relative who has been a resident of Saskatchewan for any five years.
Hardy wants the government to change the legislation so people like Dutcyvich can’t finance land purchases by friends and relatives. He said the law isn’t doing what it’s designed to do, which is to preserve ownership opportunities for Saskatchewan residents.
“If there’s a law and (people are) going around it, (the government) should almost put a plug in the hole, shouldn’t they?”