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.
“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.”
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.”