Changes to management of Crown land being imposed by the Pallister government will have adverse effects on many beef producers and on local communities
Dougald Lamont and I met with a concerned group of ranchers in Crane River on October 13th. The ranchers felt betrayed by the actions of the Pallister government which is making changes to the management of Crown Lands in a way that is very detrimental to their own livelihood and to the future of their ability to raise cattle in the area near Crane River and in nearby areas near St. Rose du Lac and in the Interlake. The ranchers were supported by a representative from the Manitoba Beef Producers, Diane Riding.
The ranchers made a strong case for continuing the “unit transfer” system. Under this system, which has existed for some time, beef producers are allowed to transfer the rights to the land and to sell the rights to lease and use the Crown land. In the system, beef producers are rewarded when they make improvements to the land. Under this system beef producers can build up equity in their operations and then when they retire, they can sell the rights to lease the land as a unit so that they will have a “pension” for when they retire. The producers are very skeptical of what the government is proposing which is that producers would negotiate compensation for improvements to the individual or company which wins the rights to use the land at auction. We talked to producers who have put hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements to the land they have leased. These include improvements like fences and dugouts. It is pretty hard to take such improvements with you when your lease expires, and the producers felt the only way to be assured that they would get the money invested back was to be able to continue the unit transfer. Not having the unit transfer would make it less likely that ranchers would invest in improvements to the land, or would be good environmental stewards of the land. It is also to be noted that some producers in this area were specifically told at some point that they were not allowed to buy the land itself, so that a number of producers have leased Crown Land as the majority of the land that they graze their cattle on. The producers are fine with the auction system being used for unused land, and land which has reverted to the Crown, but feel strongly that land which is actively being used by producers should keep the unit transfer system.
A second major concern was the increased costs of the lease by about 350% over the next two years. This is a very rapid increase, particularly for producers with marginal land who have had to face both drought and flood conditions in the last few years. This increase would put a number of the long term producers out of business. It was noted that for some producers the marginal nature of the land was such that 90% is swamp. Another said his land had more cattails than hay. This is not the same as high quality Crown Land available elsewhere. For a number of the producers, they were sacrificed in 2011 when these areas were flooded to save Winnipeg, and in one year since then. They feel they are now being sacrificed again and that this time it will have a severe adverse impact on their local community. They have put their heart and soul into investing in the land and in their community and they are disappointed, angry and frustrated by the actions of the Pallister government. Diane Riding of the Manitoba Beef Producers was very supportive of these ranchers and she said a lot of the input from the Manitoba Beef Producers was not adequately listened to by the government when it made its decision to change the system.
We also heard from a number of ranchers who had come from elsewhere because they saw Manitoba as a land of opportunity. They now feel the opportunity is being lost and their future is being taken away. We also heard that, contrary to the claims of the Pallister government, the changes being imposed on them will make it considerably more difficult for young ranchers to enter the system and begin raising cattle.
We listened carefully to what we heard and we have decided to support the ranchers in our efforts in the Legislature, and to ensure people elsewhere in Manitoba have a better understanding of the implications of the Pallister government’s policies on people and on communities.