Second Reading - Bill 187
(21 October 2015)

From Hansard - 21 October 2015

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Bill No. 187 — The Saskatchewan Farm Security Amendment Act, 2015

Hon. Mr. Stewart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, at the end of my remarks I will move second reading of Bill No. 187, The Saskatchewan Farm Security Amendment Act, 2015.

I’m pleased to speak to the amendments to The Saskatchewan Farm Security Act. This legislation will clarify who can own farm land in Saskatchewan and will provide the Farm Land Security Board with the necessary authority to enforce the Act. Our priority is to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of Saskatchewan’s agriculture industry and economy. We believe that these amendments will help us achieve this. The changes will ensure that farm land in Saskatchewan remains accessible to our farmers and ranchers.

Rules around who can own Saskatchewan farm land have been in place for about 40 years, with the last significant change to the legislation occurring in 2002. Under those rules, only Canadian residents and 100 per cent Canadian-owned entities could own more than 10 acres of farm land in Saskatchewan.

However over the past number of years, it has become apparent that the existing rules on farm land ownership require a clarification. Increasingly more and more people are viewing farm land as an attractive investment option. There is increased interest from Canadian pension plans and other investors in holding Saskatchewan farm land as an investment in their portfolio. Concerns have been raised regarding Canadians owning farm land on behalf of non-Canadians through loans, mortgages, or other more complicated agreements.

This increased interest from institutional out-of-province and potential out-of-country investors results in unease among the farming community. During our consultation, we heard that it was becoming difficult for farmers and ranchers to compete with these investors and that large tracts of land were being bought by people who had no interest in farming it themselves or in being part of the local community.

The number of instances where the effectiveness of the Act has been questioned is increasing. Also increasing is the number of instances where compliance with the Act is being questioned.

Farmers are beginning to worry about the long-term success of their operations and their ability to expand and remain competitive. They express fear that young farmers and new entrants into the industry are losing the ability to own land and fully benefit from farm land ownership. Furthermore there are fears that the connection to the land . . . The foundation of Saskatchewan as a province, farm land, is being sold to those whose livelihoods do not depend upon it. There’s also concern that the Farm Land Security Board did not have the necessary tools to monitor and enforce the rules. It became clear that something had to be done.

Today I am pleased to speak to the changes that will keep our farm land in the hands of our farmers and ranchers while still allowing for a continued economic growth. Exemptions will continue to be granted for economic development initiatives. We welcome investment in our province, and our government will continue to ensure that we maintain a positive investment climate.

The changes being introduced are what the people of Saskatchewan want. We know this because we asked. We needed to make sure that our government is on the right path and making the right decisions regarding farm land ownership. So through a consultation process, we asked who should or should not be allowed to own farm land in the province. We asked specifically about pension plans, investment trusts, pension plan administrators, and foreign investors. Over the summer of 2015, more than 3,200 people shared their views, and the results were clear: the vast majority of respondents do not support pension plans or foreign investors purchasing farm land in Saskatchewan. They do support our government in taking a stronger role in enforcing farm land ownership rules.

In fact 75 per cent of respondents opposed allowing institutional investors such as Canadian pension funds to purchase farm land in Saskatchewan. Eighty-seven per cent of respondents do not support foreign ownership of farm land, and 69 per cent do not support foreign financing. Eighty-five per cent of respondents support giving the Farm Land Security Board a greater role in enforcing compliance of farm land ownership rules.

The people of Saskatchewan told us what they thought regarding farm land ownership, and we listened. We are making changes that will keep farm land accessible to Saskatchewan’s farmers and ranchers. The legislative amendments to The Saskatchewan Farm Security Act will strengthen the regulations introduced in April as law, including designating pension funds, administrators of pension fund assets and trusts as ineligible to purchase farm land; defining having an interest in farm land to include any type of interest or benefit, for example capital appreciation, either directly or indirectly that is normally associated with the ownership of the land; and when financing a purchase of farm land, all financing must be through a financial institution registered to do business in Canada or through a Canadian resident. This legislation removes ambiguity around who can own farm land in Saskatchewan. It also provides the Farm Land Security Board with more tools to enforce the Act.

The Farm Land Security Board will receive new and expanded authority to enforce the legislation including: at the discretion of the Farm Land Security Board, any person purchasing farm land must complete a statutory declaration; increasing fines for being in contravention of the legislation from 10,000 to $50,000 for individuals and from 100,000 to $500,000 for corporations; authorizing the Farm Land Security Board to impose administrative penalties to a maximum of $10,000; and perhaps most importantly, the purchaser of the land must prove to the satisfaction of the Farm Land Security Board that they are in compliance with the legislation.

Our government understands that to many citizens in the province, farm land is not just an asset. It’s a connection to our history, and who we are as people. There’s a strong connection between ownership and stewardship of the land. I’m pleased that our government is strengthening the rules around farm land ownership in the province. Our government asked the people of Saskatchewan, who should be able to own farm land in Saskatchewan, and the response was clear.

The legislation that is being introduced reflects what the people of Saskatchewan asked for. Saskatchewan’s farmers and ranchers are the best people to care for this land and ensure its sustainability for the future growth of the province. Changes to The Saskatchewan Farm Security Act will only have positive effects, positive effects on the agricultural community in Saskatchewan.

Mr. Speaker, I propose that the amendments to this Act be passed in the best interests of the people of Saskatchewan. The alternative of not making these changes increases the risk of farm land being removed from the hands of Saskatchewan’s farmers and ranchers over time and placed into the hands of investors such as foreign interests and institutions. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 187, The Saskatchewan Farm Security Amendment Act, 2015 be read a second time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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