Lethbridge cattle head tax case may go to Supreme Court

RED DEER — An application has been filed to the Supreme Court of Canada for the right to appeal a decision upholding a per animal unit tax in Lethbridge County.

The highest court’s decision on whether to agree to hear the case is expected in about three months.

The legality of the head tax imposed primarily on cattle feedlots by the county was upheld in the Alberta Court of Appeals in mid-January.

The next steps were discussed at the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association annual meeting held in Red Deer March 12.

“The ACFA board thought it was important to support this for various reasons. Lethbridge County has a large percentage of the fed cattle in Alberta and Canada,” said Craig Paskal of the cattle feeders board.

The tax was imposed in 2016 and was meant to help maintain rural roads and bridges. The tax was challenged by nine feedlot owners in the county. The litigants argue this tax could be imposed in other cash-strapped rural municipalities.

Ultimately, the tax would affect the price paid for feeder cattle, said Paskal.

Working with Alberta Beef Producers, the cattle feeders have written a proposal to address farmland assessment and taxation that it says would restore equity in the system so property taxes could finance infrastructure.

A new department of rural development at the federal level was opened and the National Cattle Feeders Association hopes this could be one way to direct more money for infrastructure improvements.

Agriculture groups must address modernizing farmland assessments, said feedlot owner Rick Paskal.

“This is part of a bigger discussion that has to happen among cattle feeders, ABP and all of our beef organizations. We in Alberta need to go back and revisit the assessment of our agriculture land,” he said.

“Beef organizations and other agriculture groups need to sit at the table with government and have a discussion about re-establishing a fair assessment of agriculture land in Alberta.”

The province has shied away from the discussion after the challenges it faced over its farm safety law, said Casey Vander Ploeg of the cattle feeders’ staff.

It does not want to act unless the agriculture industry approaches government first.

“The root of the problem is the fact that farmland assessment and taxation is operating under a system that hasn’t been updated for decades. There is a basic inequity amongst ratepayers in municipalities in the province,” he said.

Taxation and rural infrastructure needs are part of a list of policy priorities the cattle feeders have developed for the upcoming provincial and federal elections.

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