Sask. PCs concerned about conflict of interest in review

Saskatchewan’s Progressive Conservative party says the agriculture ministry should not lead a review of farmland ownership legislation because of a potential conflict of interest.

The province was expected to announce this week the details of how the review will proceed. It is to be completed by end of summer with legislation potentially introduced in the fall.

PC leader Rick Swenson set out his demands last week for how he thinks it should unfold.

Chief among them was the request that the Farm Land Security Board be moved back to the justice ministry from agriculture. It was moved to the agriculture ministry after the Sask-atchewan Party took office in 2007.

Swenson said there is a possible conflict of interest because deputy agriculture minister Alanna Koch once sat on the board of a company advising Assiniboia Farmland Ltd.

The company recently sold 115,000 acres to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and set off the discussion of who should be able to own Saskatchewan farmland.

A legal opinion from the justice ministry found the sale was appropriate under existing legislation, but widespread concern prompted agriculture minister Lyle Stewart to announce the review.

Swenson has repeatedly asked for that opinion to be released, but it has not been made public.

He admitted he had no evidence of a conflict.

“We feel it is incumbent upon the premier of the province of Saskatchewan to ensure that this consultation process not even have the possibility of a perception of conflict of interest,” he said.

Koch called the allegation nonsense.

She said she had been appointed to the board of EAI Agriculture Development Corp. but sat on it for only a few months, never attended a meeting and did not receive remuneration.

“I did resign immediately from that advisory committee role when I was appointed deputy minister, so the allegations are all unfounded and nonsense,” she said.

Koch said the Farm Land Security Board is independent and doesn’t report to her.

Swenson also said the board’s structure should be changed from appointees by order-in-council to having a chair appointed by the justice minister and one elected member from each of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association, Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, Association of Saskatchewan Realtors and Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation.

Koch said that would be up to the government to decide.

“I can tell you, though, that we’re not considering making any changes to the structure,” she said.

“It has always been appointed by order-in-council.”

Swenson said there must be public meetings in rural areas to allow people to have their say about the review. Stewart has already said meetings aren’t planned, and Koch reiterated that.

“I think it’s fair to say the days of public meetings have kind of come and gone. People expect access online,” she said, adding the ministry will meet with key organizations as part of the consultation.

Swenson has also called for re-source company exemptions under the ownership laws to be reviewed.

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