Saskatchewan land sale questioned

Canada Pension Plan buys 115,00 acres | PC party wants provincial Farm Land Security Board to investigate deal

Saskatchewan’s Progressive Conservative party has called for an investigation into the sale of 115,000 acres of farmland to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.


Party leader Rick Swenson said the province’s Farm Land Security Board should investigate the sale of the province’s largest farm because it might not meet ownership laws.


However, economy minister Bill Boyd said a legal opinion from the justice ministry found nothing wrong with the deal.


CPI bought the land for $128 million from Assiniboia Farmland LP in December 2013. Assiniboia maintains a management agreement.


At the time, the CPI board’s senior vice-president for private investments said farmland is an attractive asset that traditionally delivers stable, risk-adjusted returns.


However, Swenson said the PC party believes the CPI is a sovereign wealth fund and isn’t eligible to own the land because it has no shares owned by Canadian residents.


He said if the CPI is allowed to own land, there will be nothing stopping Alberta’s AIMCO or the Quebec Pension Plan from buying and operating large Saskatchewan farms.


“I would have expected at least an exemption until some of these other issues are sorted out,” Swenson said, referring to the Farm Land Security Board’s ability to grant exemptions to the law.


He said Farm Credit Canada has previously had to obtain an exemption to own land.


The Saskatchewan Farm Security Act, which was amended in 2002 following public meetings, allows Canadian citizens to own farmland in the province. 


Also allowed are Canadian-owned entities, including agricultural corporations, corporations, partnerships, syndicates, joint ventures, co-operatives, associations and similar entities.


Swenson said sovereign wealth funds and land speculators shouldn’t be allowed to acquire farms because it endangers the history of producer ownership.


He said if the Saskatchewan government has a legal opinion that this sale meets its own laws, it should release that information.


The PC party is asking for an inquiry under Section 95 of the Public Inquiries Act.


“We request the board appoint a recognizably independent investigator with the power of a commissioner under the Public Inquiries Act,” said a letter to the Farm Land Security Board.


“We further request the board make public the results of the investigation and give a written report to the minister.”


Swenson said allowing CPI to own land is akin to the former land bank in Saskatchewan, which the PCs fought against.


“This is farm and ranch people competing for land and rent against their own pension money,” he said.


“They (land bank) were the high dollar in the market. Their rents were the high dollar and they were the ones that were out there competing against Saskatchewan people with their own money.”


He said the land bank program had an appeals process, but it appears there is no way to appeal the CPI-Assiniboia deal.


“We should not have agricultural people competing against their own money,” he said.


Boyd said the law allows Canadians to invest in farmland in Saskatchewan.


“I think it’s a little bit hard to argue that the Canada Pension Plan … is somehow not Canadian,” he said. 


“Obviously everybody that has a salary anywhere in Canada contributes to the Canada Pension Plan.”


Boyd said the CPI hasn’t invested much in Saskatchewan so this is a good move.


He also said he doesn’t believe sales like this are driving up land costs. Rather, he said, farmers bidding against each other are doing that.


As well, he said the deal represents less than one percent of the available farmland in Saskatchewan.

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