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Election 2016: The parties’ response to rural and farm issues

The Manitoba Co-operator put five questions to Manitoba’s registered political parties. Here is how they responded

QUESTION: Each year, Manitoba producers pay tens of thousands of dollars in education tax on their farmland. While farmers are eligible for an 80 per cent education tax rebate, that rebate is capped at $5,000, meaning larger operations are unable to claim much of the rebate. What is your party’s policy on farmland education tax rebates? Would you change the rebate structure, remove education taxes from farmland or maintain the current rebate scheme?

New Democratic Party (NDP): Our party is focused on what matters most to Manitoba families — creating good jobs and growing the economy. The Farmland School Tax Rebate makes life more affordable for farm families, allowing them to grow their operations, build up their farms, and stay working in Manitoba. When we came into office the rebate was at zero. Today, that rebate is 80 per cent. When we created the tax credit it was 33 per cent (in 2004) and we have made steady progress and increased it to 80 per cent today, saving farmland owners $35 million annually. It has saved farm families a grand total of over $300 million since we put it in place.

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We have put reasonable measures in place to ensure this rebate remains financially sustainable into the future:

  • Limiting the rebate to only Manitoba residents; and
  • Capping the annual rebate at $5,000 per farm. The $5,000 cap we implemented impacts fewer than eight per cent of applicants.

Progressive Conservative Party (PC): The Selinger NDP first promised to eliminate the farmland school tax but later introduced only an 80 per cent rebate. Then it implemented barriers to the rebate by putting a $5,000 cap per farm family (not individual). This hurts spouses who own their own smaller plots of land, making them ineligible for any rebate. A new Progressive Conservative government is committed to undertaking a value for money review to identify the true state of Manitoba’s economic situation and find savings while protecting front-line services. This and reducing the PST within our first mandate are our party’s first priorities to help get Manitoba back on track.

Liberal Party (LIB): We are committed to eliminating the $5,000 cap on school taxes on farmland. This would save rural families more than $8 million in taxes.

Green Party (GRN): The Green Party of Manitoba (GPM) would eliminate education tax from property tax on all property including both land and buildings. We will fund education through personal and corporate income tax rates so that the overall change is revenue neutral and most farmers will see their tax burden decline.

Communist Party (CP): Our policy is to make taxes fair, according to ability to pay, helping the smaller family farms the most. For several decades, the Communist Party has campaigned to remove education from property taxes, leaving municipalities a larger revenue base. All taxes on wealth ought to be related to income, including property taxes. Those able to pay should pay more. Size should not be the criteria, yet larger or more intense operations tend to be more profitable. A rebate is a good idea, but it ought to be based on net income, not the size of a farm.

QUESTION: Climate change is an accepted reality on the Prairies, with none feeling the impact more than agricultural producers. Yet agriculture is also cited as a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. What would your party do to make Manitoba’s farms more resilient in the face of climate change, while also tackling its root causes? We know climate change is real and requires concrete actions to lower our carbon footprint and do our part to fight climate change.

NDP: We know that hard-working middle-class Manitoba families can count on us to preserve the environment while continuing to create good, green jobs in Manitoba. We know that short-term targets combined with long-term goals are the only way to achieve real change. This means we need to invest in research and continue to lead initiatives that provide climate change mitigation and adaptation benefits, including Environmental Farm Plans (EFP) and Beneficial Management Practices Incentive programming. We also need to do more to protect wetlands and advance surface water management solutions that keep water on the land and protect rural properties from flood waters.

PC: The PC Party agrees that climate change is a growing threat to agricultural producers and others. We are committed to using science-based approaches and data when it comes to making decisions concerning our agricultural stakeholders and their livelihoods. We know climate change continues to pose serious issues for Manitoba producers whether they are affected by changing weather patterns or water flows. We support the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) model developed by Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) as the right way to achieve conservation and adaptation on private farmlands, and would pursue this model with the federal government and local governments. The NDP has had 17 years to invest in flood protections for Manitoba’s agricultural community, which represents almost four per cent of our province’s GDP. Unfortunately the NDP has mostly ignored the many beneficial spinoffs that agriculture can and does provide to Manitobans.

LIB: Agriculture producers want to be part of the solution, but we need to be mindful of the cost to producers and the cost to consumers that would come if we put too much pressure on costs. We will work with producers to find common-sense solutions to this important issue.

GRN: The GPM will dedicate spending on measures that enable farmers to increase carbon sequestration such as the use of cover crops and green manure crops, planting of shelterbelts, restoration of wetlands and forestation of riparian areas. We will encourage drought-resistant practices such as holistic grazing management. We will invest public money into public plant breeding to encourage locally adapted cultivars. We will encourage production methods which use less chemical fertilizer to reduce the manufacture of nitrogen, which is one of the biggest GHG emitters in farming. We will encourage the construction of water-retention areas to reduce the damage of flash floods. We will encourage the decentralization of commodity processing in order to reduce transportation which is a major contributor of GHGs.

CP: If there is a best time to spend funds on research and development of means to mitigate the effects of climate change, it is immediately. Rather than pay higher insurance premiums, prevention is the best policy. The Communist Party proposes to nationalize the oil and gas industry and convert oilpatch jobs to greener forms of energy with no loss in pay. Before the 1990s, we demanded a moratorium on new tarsands development. Now our policy is to keep it in the ground.

QUESTION: Recent years have seen a reduction in the number of extension offices and production specialists in Manitoba. Producer groups also cite a decreased emphasis on research and development overall. What would your party do to improve extension services for Manitoba farmers? And how would you foster robust agricultural research and innovation with your mandate?

NDP: Our NDP government has been a strong supporter of research and innovation and has invested significantly into research and development. Working with industry partners we developed the Grain Innovation Hub to foster innovation and grow Winnipeg as a key centre in Canada’s grain industry. The Growing Forward 2 Partnership with the federal government has the flexibility to create new jobs and grow Manitoba’s economy. This agreement will allow us to meet challenges in Manitoba’s agriculture industry and ensure our farmers and their families are protected. These investments — such as the new Beef-Forage Platform — provide our farmers with innovative programming and important research.

PC: Manitobans have always had the tools they need to succeed, but the NDP has been in their way. A PC government would partner with the producers and experts in both the private and post-secondary sectors in order to foster new research and innovation.

LIB: Manitoba should be a hub for agricultural research, but research dollars have been headed to other jurisdictions. We need to make Manitoba a hub for agricultural innovation and that requires political will.

GRN: The GPM will increase public funding for crop and animal variety research to remove the burden of seed royalties from farmers. We would stop the flow of public money into private intellectual property. We will increase funding for research into sustainable farm practices. The GPM would hire a provincial organic production specialist to deliver extension services and improve outcomes for organic farmers. We’d increase funding for grazing clubs and organic farm clubs to deliver education on economically and environmentally sustainable production techniques.

CP: Science in agriculture is needed more than ever. The Communist Party would make a large investment in research and development, with full input from farmers into the direction and emphasis of research. Priorities must include sustainability, soil retention and water preservation. The “war on knowledge and science” must end.

QUESTION: Manitoba producers rely on the province’s roads and highways to operate their farms and get products to market, but many roadways, bridges, ditches and culverts are in need of repair and renewal. How would your party tackle this issue? What areas of the province would your party prioritize for infrastructure renewal? How would your party fund infrastructure? Would your party increase financial contributions to municipal governments to ensure roads under their jurisdictions also see improvement?

NDP: Our $10-billion infrastructure plan will create good jobs and grow the economy. The multi-year strategy includes:

  • Investing $6.6 billion in provincial highways and bridges to create a modern transportation network that links Manitoba’s CentrePort to the world, directs heavy traffic off city roadways and includes charging infrastructure, and an additional $2.5 billion for municipal roads, clean water, active transportation projects and other important priorities.
  • Increasing Manitoba’s share of the funding for a Growing Communities Fund for rural Manitoba.
  • Investing $900 million in flood protection, including work on the Portage Diversion and the Shellmouth Dam, stronger flood protection for Brandon, support for community dikes and working with First Nations communities to build the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin outlets.

PC: The PC Party has committed to invest no less than $1 billion a year in strategic infrastructure investments throughout Manitoba. Having predictable and stable funding from government will go a long way to getting needed infrastructure projects completed. We will adopt a return-on-investment criteria to ensure that the proper infrastructure is being targeted for renewal by focusing on projects that will best support the growth of Manitoba’s economy including to municipalities for projects like these.

LIB: We have committed to putting the extra point of PST into a dedicated Municipal Infrastructure Fund to ensure each municipal government can focus on its own priorities without being told what those are by politicians on Broadway. We will also take stock of what rural roads need the most help and focus our efforts on those. We must get back to the basics and that means prioritizing infrastructure dollars.

GRN: We will create a Green Surface Water Management Strategy which ends the practice of dumping water onto those downstream and encourages landowners to build retention ponds. Owners would be able to move water around on a quarter section to enable efficient farming, but must not drain their water off their property. We’ll invest in engineering services to ensure that culvert and bridge projects are appropriate for the site and that recurring damage and repair expenses are avoided.

CP: Canada’s antiquated tax structure hinders rural and urban municipalities the most, and is detrimental to the development of Aboriginal nations who demand just and quick settlement of land and resource claims. Municipalities are short of funds to pay for needed infrastructure because they are “creatures of the provinces” and have no access to the enormous profits and personal incomes. Canada, and Manitoba, must work towards a new deal to provide access to fair or progressive tax authority for municipalities.

QUESTION: In 2006, the Manitoba government banned the construction or expansion of hog barns in 35 rural municipalities, unless they included an anaerobic digester to handle effluent. In 2011 that ban — colloquially referred to as a moratorium — was expanded to the entire province. Today a special pilot project protocol is allowing for new barn construction in most of the province. What policy would your party enact regarding hog barns and other intensive livestock operations in Manitoba? How would your party balance economic and environmental considerations?

NDP: Manitobans care about the environment and want clean, safe water. That is why we are working hard to have strong environmental regulations to protect our water. We will continue to use research, science and innovative technologies to grow our economy while also protecting our environment. We will only support projects that include even tougher environmental regulations that must be followed and ensures that any expansion occurs only in areas where it will not harm our water.

PC: The PC Party of Manitoba is committed to working with all stakeholder groups to achieve the best economic and environmental results. Manitoba’s hog farmers and processors are vital components to our economy. As such, and as previously stated, the PC Party of Manitoba is committed to using science-based approaches and data to help inform the best policies in government to bring the PC Party’s better plan for a better Manitoba.

LIB: Balance is indeed the key. We must protect our waterways and our lakes and rivers, but we feel producers want to be part of that solution and we will work with the hog and livestock industry to ensure we are allowing for production that is sustainable and responsible. An all-out moratorium seems like an overreaction to this problem, and it has the potential to kill an industry that creates diversity in our economy and vibrancy to our rural communities.

GRN: The GPM would restore the single desk for hog marketing in order to give market access to smaller hog producers who are now shut out of the market. We would replace the hog barn moratorium with a requirement that all new and existing barns demonstrate that they have access to and are using adequate manure spread acres, measured by soil phosphate content. We would start the transition away from liquid manure and toward straw bedding hog management systems. The GPM would work with CFIA to allow the use of a truck-washing station on Highway 75 to stop the spread of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus into Manitoba.

CP: Such intensive operations require strict environmental guidelines to protect land and water resources. Our policy is to oppose the unscientific and unsustainable use of antibiotics. We do not propose a moratorium, but support well-managed, safe and worker-friendly livestock operations. To assist smaller operations, we would re-establish marketing boards.

NOTE: Though contacted, the Manitoba Party did not respond to the questions posed above.

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