Tax reform protest heats up

Groups band together to voice opposition to proposed changes seen as a threat to family farms

Farmers have joined with allies from across the country to fight the federal government’s proposed tax changes, ones many say could threaten the future of the family farm.

It’s an attempt to pressure a Liberal government that might or might not understand the practical implications the changes could have on farm income, succession and family dynamics.

“Farmers and others who are concerned about these changes need to make these Liberals understand that there will be a very steep political price,” said Jason Kenney, the former senior federal Conservative government cabinet minister, long-time member of Parliament, and leading Alberta opposition member.

“If there’s enough volume and a big enough constituency opposed to changes, I think they can be defeated.”

According to numerous tax, succession and accounting experts, the proposals could substantially increase the tax farmers pay and could penalize farmers for trying to keep their farms within the family by establishing farm companies or using other vehicles to transfer land ownership.

People can comment on the proposals until Oct. 2.

Farm organizations have been quick to join the Coalition for Small Business Tax Fairness fighting the proposals, with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Canadian Pork Council, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Association of Farm Advisors, Canadian Horticultural Council, Grain Farmers of Canada and Grain Farmers of Ontario becoming founding members.

Provincial governments are also becoming involved, with the prairie provinces’ finance ministers taking the lead but each province’s agriculture minister also stepping forward to point out what they see as possible threats to farmer viability.

The decision to announce the changes in mid-summer and to only accept responses until mid-fall has also drawn provincial notice.

“There has not been a detailed, comprehensive forum or discussion on what this might look like,” said Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler.

ADVERTISMENT

“They want an opportunity not… to be on the combine and hear about it, or on the tractor as they prepare their soils…. They want a real opportunity to sit down and explain their position on whether or not that will affect them and their ability to be sustainable long term.”

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart, who was busy harvesting at his own farm as he tried to come to grips with the proposed changes, also challenged the rushed timetable.

“The tight consultation period… is concerning as it makes it difficult for farmers and industry groups to participate because of harvest time,” said Stewart.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier urged his province’s farmers to take the time to respond to Ottawa’s proposals.

“I encourage all our farmers and ranchers to make sure they take part in that consultation, make sure that their stories are told, make sure that their concerns are heard by the federal government,” said Carlier. “I think there might be some unintentional consequences here… and we want to make sure they understand.”

The federal government has not committed to carrying through with the changes. However, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has appeared to agree with motivation behind the changes, which is to close tax loopholes exploited by some businesses and professionals.

The changes proposed for agriculture are seen as costly and dangerous by many farm tax and management experts, but Kenney said that the minister and top bureaucrats may not understand all the implications.

“There are a lot of very smart people in the department of finance, but I suspect none of them have a real understanding of how family farms are structured, and the challenges that the family farm is facing in Canada,” said Kenney.

“I think this is partly informed by ignorance.”

ADVERTISMENT

Kenney said finance officials brought similar proposals to the Stephen Harper government’s long-serving Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, but “he rejected them out of hand.”

“The only way to fight it is by demonstrating an even wider broader coalition of people who are opposed to these changes,” said Kenney.

That’s something farmer organizations are also hoping to see.

Todd Lewis, president of Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan urged farmers to contact their MPs.

Shane Jahnke, president of the Saskatchewan Stockgrowers Association, urged farmers to tell the government what they think about the proposed changes and not just rely upon organizations.

Farmers should “get on (the Department of Finance) website and express their thoughts,” said Jahnke.

Dan Mazier, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said the government must realize it could be undermining the ability of families to keep the family farm going.

“They need to hear about it.”

ADVERTISMENT

  • Richard

    The Federal Liberals have an ability to motivate widespread opposition to their policies. Last time in power it was gun control, which took years to die down as an electoral issue. This time it is tax reform.

    If it was only on agriculture they could likely afford to lose a few rural seats, but they have managed to get small business people riled up as well.

    Not that tax reform shouldn’t be discussed or considered, but a better place to start would be consultations with the associations before laying out what you intend to do.

    Farmers (like our family) do get a lot of tax breaks that regular working people don’t, and then get more than a lot of small business people in rural towns don’t get.

    But the process to have informed discussions and informed ideas put on the table is missing and now that battle lines have been drawn, someone has to lose in all of this. Government has only themselves to blame now for the mess they created.

  • old grouchy

    What a damning phrase “. . . an attempt to pressure a Liberal government that might or might not understand . . . ” !
    A government by the people for the people of the people (a democracy) and this is said about it. IMO this truth is not only devastating but it clearly delineates why a major reform of our government systems is so desperately needed

    • Harold

      Who will reform the government; the Government is going to do it? The one you elect; he or she will do it? The Party you elect; they will do it? Why would
      any of them wish to undermine any of their own powers? No – that is OUR Job; the Public. A “government by the People” is created “by the People” who have the courage to stand; it is NOT created by any wording on a piece of paper. It is the “People” who need to be “Reformed”, and when done, the government they deserve will fall into place. The “People” DO NOT have to “fight” – like the Article above suggests; they merely only need to evoke – by using the tools given to the “People” by the Canadian Constitution.(1982) The necessary “Peoples Reform” – is that they read their damn Charter Rights – and stop guessing – or being told what they are, like the uneducated do. (Apparently, 54 Articles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is too much information for Canadians and they don’t want to know) All “the People” need to do is to come together and sign a Petition in majority stating that the undersigned have removed their consent to Bill – such and such – and the Bill is repealed and “The People” are made free of it; you don’t “storm” down any streets with picket signs like the homeless or illiterate, or argue with any opinions of the Politicians in the Town Halls. The words “fight” and “pressure” are illusionary and propaganda terms. A petition is undeniable fact evidence of the will of the majority; an Opinion Poll is non-fact evidence and it is often used to undermine the public. To know your Rights through and through – is the ability and power to act upon them. How can you claim any Rights if you don’t know what they are? How can you correct a wrong if you don’t know what the Right is? Not knowing what your undeniable Rights are – you have made your Rights a joke – and therefore you have none that you know of – and that suits the Government(s) and the Corporate just fine, and they can walk all over you/us just as they have been doing all along.
      (PS. “We the People…..” is a USA Constitutional phrase; On behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, is ours – both nations are a Democracy – too much American TV education I’m sorry to say)