School taxes, red tape, ALUS and Growing Forward 3 were topics of discussion during the first meeting between the province’s general farm organization and the newly minted provincial agriculture minister.
The Keystone Agricultural Producers and Ralph Eichler sat down last week for the first time since the change in government this spring.
“School taxes (on agricultural land and buildings) was the No. 1 issue we brought up,” KAP president Dan Mazier said in an interview June 17.
KAP vice-president Justin Jenner and general manager James Battershill also attended the 30-minute meeting.
KAP has long advocated the removal of locally collected school taxes on all farmland and farm buildings, arguing it’s unfair because it doesn’t reflect farmers’ ability to pay.
The previous NDP government introduced a program to rebate 80 per cent of education taxes on farmland, but then capped the total refund at $5,000 per landowner.
As of April, the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) said in 2015, 1,893 farmers were affected by the cap resulting in them not getting a total of $7.4 million rebated. Since the data processing wasn’t finished the final total could be higher.
In 2014, 1,464 farmers were unable to get $5.5 million rebated because of the cap.
KAP wants all education taxes removed, but in the interim wants the rebate deducted off farmers’ tax bills, rather than requiring farmers to apply to MASC for the rebate.
“It (education taxes) really frustrate me,” Mazier said. “Judging by the amount of phone calls I am getting and the (KAP) office is getting on (farmland) assessment, I think it is going to be well over $7 million and well over 1,900 (farmers affected by the cap on rebates in 2016).”
Given the provincial government’s deficit KAP doesn’t expect the new Progressive Conservative government will immediately address the cap, Mazier said.
“But our big ask is just take it all off of production buildings and land anyway,” he said. “But that is not going to happen in the first term of this government.”
The new government has also promised a task force to identify red tape. KAP supports the idea and is asking farmers to suggest red tape they want cut. Farmers can fill out a survey on KAP’s website (http://tinyurl.com/gtxjj4c).
Mazier said he hopes the task force will consider streamlining the farmland drainage application process, which the previous government proposed in its surface water management bill that died because of the election.
KAP also told Eichler it could be a resource in setting up the Alternate Land Use Services (ALUS) program to reward farmers for providing ecological goods and services to society.
“We are ready to work with the department,” Maizer said. “I think he (Eichler) is open to it.”
ALUS was created in Manitoba by former KAP president and now Minister of Education and Training Ian Wishart and Jonathon Scarth, Premier Brian Pallister’s principal secretary.
Pallister instructed Eichler and the minister of sustainable development to introduce “a province-wide program based on the ALUS model to help reduce flooding and improve water quality and nutrient management.”
Mazier likes mandate letters for ministers.
“It really helps the process because then we know what the minister is up against,” he said. To me that is a very positive move.
“It does remind both sides what they are supposed to be working on. The premier is giving guidance to everyone as to what he is expecting.”