Manitoba

'Many challenges' on horizon for Manitoba farmers heading into election, agriculture group says

A group that represents Manitoba farmers will be surveying the four major political parties on what they think should be done to improve the poor condition of many rural roads, the education funding system and climate change management ahead of the fall election.

More effective climate change programming, education funding, infrastructure spending needed, says KAP

The Keystone Agriculture Producers plans to share results of a survey it will circulate to the provincial Liberals, NDP, Tories and Greens about priority areas for rural Manitobans and farmers ahead of the September election. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

A group that represents Manitoba farmers will be surveying the four major political parties ahead of the fall election on what they think should be done to improve the poor condition of many rural roads, the education funding system and climate change management.

Keystone Agriculture Producers, which represents Manitoba farmers, outlined three priority areas heading into the Sept. 10 election, including effective climate change programming, enhanced spending on infrastructure and "equitable education funding." 

"We have many challenges on the horizon," KAP president Bill Campbell told reporters outside the legislature Tuesday.

"The next provincial government needs to come to the table with a real plan for the agriculture sector to continue to provide positive economic growth for Manitoba farmers."

Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, speaks with reporters Tuesday outside the legislature regarding priorities of farmers heading into the Sept. 10 provincial election. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

KAP intends to survey the Manitoba Liberal Party, Green Party, New Democratic Party and Progressive Conservatives on the three areas and share party responses with the public.

Campbell said the last seven years have seen municipal contributions to education funding increase by over 50 per cent, while the provincial government education funding has gone down.

"We need an education funding system that works on improving outcomes with steady, predictable funding provided by the province and not by property owners," Campbell said.

'Disproportionate' taxing of rural lands

Rural landowners have shouldered the brunt of that increase due in part to their large property sizes, he said.

"They're collecting a disproportionate amount from rural land owners and farm production buildings, and it's fairly dramatic when you consider one family on a farm unit compared to one family in an urban setting," he said.

"It is not the farmland or the farm production buildings that require the services of education funding. It's the places where people live that are in essence sending kids to school that require the services for education funding." 

Assessment value has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to pay, so we're expected to pay property and education taxes on land that may not produce anything.- Bill Campbell

How much a property owner is taxed under the current education levy system is based on the assessed property value, and assessed property value is based on property sales in a given area in the prior few years, Campbell said. If property sale values go up in an area, the assessed value of surrounding properties goes up, he added.

The system was devised in a time when there was more farm families on a quarter section or half section of land outside Winnipeg, Campbell said, and a more equal distribution of population of families sending kids to school. As more Manitobans have migrated into cities, the volume of people per section of land utilizing school services has gone down. 

This compounds financial challenges facing farmers when agricultural production issues stemming from weather patterns arise, or revenue problems related to global trade occur, because farmers are expected to swallow the losses and not pass them onto the consumer while continuing to pay higher education tax fees, Campbell said.

"Assessment value has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to pay, so we're expected to pay property and education taxes on land that may not produce anything," he said.

Roads and water management

On the topic of crummy rural roads, Campbell said deficient maintenance operations add costs to Manitoba farmers and limit market access, Campbell said.

"Roads that are not maintained mean less economic growth and less investment in Manitoba," he said. "The $350-million-a-year provincial spending infrastructure does not come close to dealing with the $11-billion infrastructure deficit our province is faced with."

The next government will also need to support water management work by producers as part of any future green strategy, said Campbell.

KAP said agriculture brings more than $6 billion into the Manitoba economy annually and creates over 35,000 jobs.

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With files from Bryce Hoye

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