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Farmland education tax not part of education review

Premier Brian Pallister wants a plan for improving public education before exploring ways to pay for it

The president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) says he isn’t surprised education taxes aren’t part of an upcoming education review — but he is a bit disappointed.

Bill Campbell says funding issues, and especially taxation on farmland, should be on the agenda, especially given earlier statements from the provincial government.

“I realize this is a sensitive issue and it will take some time,” Campbell said in an interview Jan. 24. “I don’t want to throw up red flags even before we start the process. Yeah, it’s disappointing we can’t deal with it (education taxation) in an all-encompassing conversation, but I don’t want it portrayed as that it’s not going to work.”

Jan. 23 Education and Training Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced a “comprehensive, independent review of the kindergarten to Grade 12 education system,” by a nine-member commission.

Its mandate is to consult on “a wide range of topics such as student learning, teaching, accountability for student learning, governance and funding,” a government news release says.

However, “funding” relates to ensuring public education is sustainable and equitable and “the commission will not consider education taxes on farmland,” a government official said in an email Jan. 25.

That’s what Premier Brian Pallister told reporters after speaking at Ag Days here Jan. 22.

“First we’ve got to figure out how to make the education system work for our students,” Pallister said.

“We have to equip our young people and we’re not doing as good a job of it as we could and should and must. So this is what this task force is charged with. Once we get those recommendations and begin acting on them then we can talk about the second issue, which is, how do we pay for all this stuff? First we have to make the system work for our kids.”

For decades KAP has lobbied the Manitoba government to remove education taxes from farmland and production buildings arguing it doesn’t reflect farmers’ ability to pay.

KAP says education taxes on farmland are even more unfair now because assessed values have risen dramatically the last few years shifting the education tax burden to farmers and away from other taxpayers.

Ian Wishart, legislative assistant to the minister of education and training, knows the argument well because he made it when he was KAP’s president.

In May 2017 Wishart, who was then education and training minister, said the government would review public school education, including funding.

“We did commit to a full consultation process,” Wishart told a legislative committee meeting. “We haven’t put a final date on that yet as the call for proposals and such is still in development, and that will be determined… but we did commit to being very detailed… the funding of the schools would be part of that program as well.”

KAP welcomed Wishart’s statements.

“I think the government is talking the most positive I’ve seen in a long time about trying to make some changes,” then KAP president Dan Mazier said at an advisory council meeting here July 13, 2017.

During the same meeting then KAP general manager James Battershill said: “We perceive pretty strong and clear indications from the education minister (Wishart) right now that this government is interested in some major changes to the way education is funded in this province.”

Just before the government announced the review, Campbell said he was informed education taxation would not be part of the commission’s mandate. But the review advances the issue, he added.

“The previous 10 years it hasn’t got to that stage.”

Manitoba School Boards Association president Alan Campbell told the Winnipeg Free Press he supports dealing with the education funding formula later because it’s so complex.

“We certainly would encourage, and will communicate our encouragement, that the government would keep a funding review on the table in the future,” he was quoted as saying.

Goertzen told reporters he doesn’t rule out the possibility of amalgamating school divisions or even scrapping them.

The commission’s mandate includes:

  • Proposing a renewed vision for kindergarten to Grade 12 education.
  • Making bold recommendations to ignite change within existing systems, structures and programs, which inspire excellence in teaching and learning.
  • Consider the continuum of early learning, post-secondary education and labour market needs as part of an integrated lifelong learning approach.

KAP will likely participate in the review even though funding isn’t part of it, Campbell said.

“Schools have a major impact on some of our communities,” he said. “They are the lifeblood of some communities.”

The commission will be co-chaired by Janice MacKinnon of Canmore, Alta. and Clayton Manness of La Salle, Man.

MacKinnon served as an NDP Saskatchewan cabinet minister from 1991 to 2001 and is professor of fiscal policy at the University of Saskatchewan School of Public Health.

Manness, the MLA for Morris from 1981 to 1995, served as minister of finance, minister of education and training and government house leader. He later chaired Prairie Flax Products Inc. and served as president of Man Agra Capital Inc.

The commission has a $700,000 budget and must report its findings to the government by February 2020.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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