Ownership of Sask. land under review

Saskatchewan has completed a three-month public consultation into the province’s farmland ownership laws.

But it could a while before the findings of that consultation are made public and before the province decides whether changes should be made to rules that dictate who can buy farmland.

Nearly 3,200 people completed a survey dealing with the farmland ownership issue between May 20 and Aug. 10.

“We’re very happy with participation … but it’s going to take a little bit of time to actually tabulate the results properly,” said Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart in an Aug. 13 interview, three days after the consultation period had concluded. “Ministry staff will be working on that and we hope to have the (survey) results available to the public in early fall.”

It remains to be seen how the province will change provincial farmland ownership laws or if the existing legislation will be deemed adequate.

But during an Aug. 12 interview in Regina, Stewart said the province has no plans to reverse a 2002 decision that opened farmland ownership to all Canadians.

“We’re not going back to the days when only Saskatchewan farmers could own farmland,” Stewart said. “We think Canadians should be eligible to own farmland.”

Stewart said later that the main questions in the survey dealt with issues of foreign ownership and large institutional investors, including pension funds and trusts.

Under current legislation, investment trusts and pension plans are prohibited from buying farmland in Saskatchewan.

However, loopholes have allowed some institutional investors, including the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), to acquire farmland in the province.

CPPIB began buying Saskatchewan farmland in 2013.

That raised concerns in the farm community about land becoming too costly, restricting the entry of new farmers into the industry.

Stewart said existing legislation might require more clarity as well as provisions that make it easier to enforce ownership laws.

“Certainly, the Farmland Security Board, which does do a very good job of attempting to enforce the legislation that is in place, has had some problems with (enforcement), partly because of the vagueness of the legislation and also with the issue of following money in foreign countries,” Stewart said.

“It’s been very difficult to determine what’s been happening in some situations. That may be one change that may be deemed (necessary) … is that we need to make it easier to enforce the provisions of whatever act we have.”

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