The Progressive Conservative party’s promise to phase out education taxes on all property, including farmland, is a huge win for Manitoba farmers and the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), says University of Manitoba political studies professor, Christopher Adams.
But the news release announcing the pledge doesn’t mention farmers at all and instead focuses on the tax savings homeowners will see. That was deliberate strategy on the part of Premier Brian Pallister.
“Pallister does not want to be painted as the guy protecting farm producers,” Adams said in an interview Sept. 5. “He knows producers will vote for him and he knows that this has been an important issue for them. It’s a policy reward to KAP and others for something they have been lobbying for, for a long time. The real drive right now is Winnipeg, and particularly middle-class Winnipeg. More than half of the constituencies out of the 57 seats (in the legislative assembly) are in the Winnipeg area. So there’s nothing to be gained by talking up the support for farm producers when he’s trying to win over the urban, middle-class vote.”
A member of the PC party confirmed that, in a conversation last week.
“They’ll (opposition parties) say we’re playing to rural Manitobans,” the party member said just ahead of the election.
“That’s why he (Pallister) stayed away from that. The election is won and lost in Winnipeg.”
Many Winnipeggers suspect the PC party is “too wedded” to the agriculture community, Adams said.
It’s more evidence of the rural-urban divide KAP president Bill Campbell alluded to in this week’s issue of the Co-operator. In it he laments how little attention political parties payed to agricultural issues during the provincial election campaign.
“I understand just how many votes are at stake and that elections are won and lost inside the Perimeter Highway, but it is frustrating for rural voters to see those issues dominate platforms and announcements on a daily basis,” Campbell said. “Forty-five per cent of Manitobans live outside of Winnipeg, yet they get only a fraction of the attention. It certainly doesn’t help that every party sees the results outside of the city as preordained before the writ is dropped.”
Campbell, who attended an all-candidates meeting on agriculture, was underwhelmed, writing that they “can’t seem to articulate a clear vision for these issues.”
Even though Pallister and his party haven’t aggressively courted the farm vote, the premier, who was raised on a farm near Portage la Prairie, comes from the rural wing of the PC party, Adams noted.
Phasing out more than $800 million of annual education taxes on property and not replacing it with some other tax raises questions about whether it can be done without cutting government spending elsewhere. But according to Adams, reforming education taxes would give other parties ammunition to say the PCs want to help farmers at the expense of others.
“I think secondly it feeds into this priority by the premier to cut back on government,” Adams said. “This will be how he chops other things saying, ‘we’ve got a commitment to do this, therefore we’ve got to move money over from these other areas instead of increasing taxes.’ It feeds into the two priorities — the optics of not wanting to make the farm producers the big beneficiaries of this on the backs of many other people, and secondly, I think it feeds into his need to continue cutting back on government.”