The Keystone Agricultural Producers’ (KAP) recent advisory council meeting went two hours longer than the scheduled five, but it’s not surprising given all the issues the general farm organization is working on.
It took seven slides just to summarize, in point form, KAP’s activities between its 37th annual meeting in January and its April 15 online advisory meeting, one of three held throughout the year.
“It’s busy,” KAP president Bill Campbell told the meeting.
“Lots of things have been happening.”
And KAP’s hard work appears to be paying off.
Why it matters: As the number of farmers continues to decline so does their influence. KAP’s mandate is to get input from as many Manitoba farmers as it can and pursue policies developed democratically by its membership.
After years of lobbying, earlier this month the federal and provincial governments agreed to end the reference margin limit under the AgriStability program. It’s a small but significant change that will make the support program work better for farmers, farm leaders say.
Campbell credits the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), which KAP belongs to, as well as KAP, other provincial general farm organizations that belong to CFA and other farm organizations.
Last year CFA helped organize the ‘Food for Thought’ program aimed at urbanites in major Canadian cities asking them to write their members of Parliament to support farmers and domestic food production.
CFA and others, including the Canadian Pork Council and Canadian Cattlemen Association, helped raise $500,000 for the campaign, Campbell said.
“It’s the first time in over a decade that there has been additional funds provided to the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (which includes AgriStability),” Campbell said. “So this $500,000 leveraged $95 million nationally (through improvements to AgriStability). So you can see working together in an ag lobby can produce results.
“I’m pretty sure it’s felt at CFA this campaign was pivotal at getting the federal government to come to the table… and then presenting the offer to the provinces (to change AgriStability) and the provincial lobbying groups pushing their provincial governments and getting them to the table to negotiate with the federal ag minister,” Campbell said in an interview later.
The federal government had to get at least two of the three Prairie provinces to agree to the change.
KAP members are getting a good return on their investment, Campbell said.
“There’s a pretty good chance that our (Manitoba) government would not have engaged, or even the federal government would not necessarily have brought this forward,” he said. “I don’t think they would have done anything if we hadn’t done any advocacy work.”
Since its creation in 1984, after the Manitoba Farm Bureau self-destructed over the bitterly divisive Crow rate issue, KAP has advocated to remove education taxes from farmland and production buildings.
In the 2019 election the Progressive Conservatives announced if they were elected the tax would be phased out over 10 years.
In its April 8 budget the government said it would automatically rebate 25 per cent of the tax this fall, and 50 per cent in 2022, plus farmers can apply for an additional rebate in both years and presumably until it’s phased out.
“It’s frustrating that it has taken this long, but it’s somewhat satisfying,” Campbell said of the phase-out. “When you go about things in a proper, professional manner the government hears you so it is gratifying.
“The biggest take-away is that the government acknowledges that there are inequities and it’s not a fair way of collecting education tax anymore so it’s a step in the right direction.”
KAP always argued taxing farmland to fund education was flawed because it doesn’t reflect the farmer’s ability to pay, Campbell said. But the inequity has grown in recent years as the assessed value of farmland has risen faster than other property resulting in more of the tax burden shifting to farmers, he said.
“I am just hoping the ag industry appreciates all that KAP does to represent its views,” Campbell said.
When KAP began lobbying the Manitoba government in 1984 on education taxes, change seemed unlikely given how long the system had been in place and the difficulty in raising the funds some other way. Nevertheless the phase-out has begun, albeit with the government not explaining how the shortfall will be made up.
Lowe Farm producer Wilfred (Butch Harder) told the meeting he isn’t convinced the change is for the best, predicting eliminating education taxes will be capitalized into land prices.
He also suggested the provincial sales tax should be increased to make up the difference to ensure adequate education funding.
But Campbell noted eliminating tax has long been KAP policy. As for making up the shortfall that’s for the government to determine, he said.
In conjunction with removing education taxes from property the Manitoba government is scrapping the province’s 37 locally elected non-francophone school boards and replacing them with centralized authority made up mainly by government-appointed officials starting next year.
A resolution opposing the elimination of school boards in rural Manitoba was narrowly defeated during the meeting.
The resolution’s mover, Scott Mowbray, is concerned the change will result in rural school closings, which will kill small towns.
But others countered the current system isn’t working either.
Since the vote was so close KAP officials said they would check the results of the online vote later to be sure only members voted.
Early on when it was clear the agenda, including 19 resolutions up for debate, would not fit in the allotted time, KAP members voted to extend the meeting, noting the timeliness of some of the resolutions.
Later Campbell said if KAP members come to a meeting, he wants them to be able to have their say. KAP prides itself in its grassroots policy development and that takes time.
In addition to three advisory council meetings, its annual meeting and district meetings, KAP has numerous committee meetings where much of its policy research is done, Campbell said.
KAP is following and supporting provincial legislation to improve trespass laws and biosecurity, he added.
At the federal level KAP is following legislation to amend the greenhouse gas and price on pollution act, providing the federal government feedback on greenhouse gas mitigation, carbon sequestration and amendments to the Canada Grain Act, which affects the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC).
“There is a strong lobby from the Western Grain Elevators Association (WGEA) to change some of the Canada Grain Act… ” Campbell said.
The WGEA wants the CGC’s mandatory inspection of Canadian grain exported by ship made voluntary so companies can hire their own grain inspectors who would be accredited by the CGC.
Even though farmers sell their grain to grain companies, Campbell said grain exports still affect farmers.
“We want the system to protect the producer,” he said.
“We would like to, as far as producers (are concerned), ensure that the product that is delivered and put on the boat and received by the customer has that independent, third-party appraisal, ensuring that, that has the Canadian stamp of approval on it.”