Provincial Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen says a transitional measure on the chopping block under proposed Crown land regulations was never actually in play.
Earlier this fall, forage leaseholders raised concern with the potential removal of the measure, which would have allowed those who held their lease prior to last year’s Crown land changes to transfer lease rights one last time.
“Contrary to recent media articles, there never was a transitional measure to allow one-lease unit transfers,” Pedersen said in a letter to the Manitoba Co-operator. “Nowhere, in the past or present Crown Lands Act, are unit transfers enshrined in legislation. As a matter of policy at the discretion of the department, unit transfers were in some cases allowed and not in others.”
Why it matters: Leaseholders say the province’s current take on a transitional measure up for repeal does not match what they have previously been told.
According to the 2019 Agricultural Crown Land Leases and Permits Regulation amendment, “an agricultural lease or permit issued before the coming into force of this section may be transferred according to its terms and conditions or with the approval of the director.”
At the same time, an informational booklet published in September 2019 by the province said, “existing leases issued prior to the regulation being amended will be able to transfer the remaining term of a lease through a unit transfer.”
The new leaseholder would then be beholden to the new rules, including the new 15-year term, down from 50 in the previous system, Crown lands staff said during public meetings last year.
Pedersen has since said the wording in those documents is, “… a reference to the transitionary provision under the current regulation.”
“This provision will be removed by the proposed amendment,” he said. “The transitionary provision was never operative because the moratorium on unit transfers was never lifted.”
Brent Benson, spokesperson with the Manitoba Crown Land Leaseholders Association, says that messaging does not match previous information.
“All the Crown lands people went to 10 meetings saying about this measure last fall, and then it actually wasn’t happening?” he said.
The association is, “pretty disappointed that the story is changing here,” he also said.
Unit transfers have been among the most heated topics to come out of the changed Agricultural Crown Land system, an issue that has created tension between the provincial government and forage leaseholders.
Under new lease regulations, released in September 2019, producers could no longer transfer lease rights alongside the sale of their private land to a non-family member.
Leaseholders have argued that unit transfers were critical to retirement plans, and that some northern ranches are not viable or salable without lease rights, as the bulk of grazing land in those regions is owned by the Crown.
The province, however, has argued that producers were using transfers to inflate the value of their private land, while Pedersen has argued that producers would not expect to transfer rights under any other rented farmland.
“It is disheartening and misleading when both lease and non-leaseholders continue to insist they have ownership to something they were not entitled to have,” Pedersen said in his letter.
Further draft changes, including the repeal of the transitionary transfer, were tabled this fall. The changes followed through on the province’s earlier promise to add a right of renewal for legacy leases (those in place prior to the changes last year). Initial regulations prompted outrage from producers heavily reliant on Crown lands last fall, who argued the 15-year term, combined with open auction, risked business continuity and family farm succession.
“Family lease transfers were missed in the legislation, so an amendment has been brought forward to allow for intergenerational lease transfers at 15-year intervals,” Pedersen said. “As long as a family member renews the lease every 15 years, the lease stays in the family. As long as a family member renews the lease, it will not go to public auction.”
The draft regulation changes passed their 45-day public consultation period as of Nov. 16.
Benson said he is unsure of how many of their members contributed to that consultation, although the association itself also submitted a position.
“We were very in favour of the change in terms of the renewals and transfers for in family,” he said.