Saskatchewan·CBC Investigates

Irrigation equipment from Chinese immigration scheme would water land farmed by Bill Boyd

Irrigation equipment purchased by would-be immigrants, through an immigration scheme touted by former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Bill Boyd, was to water land that Boyd farms, CBC’s iTeam has learned.

Irrigation pivots would water farmland owned by Alberta land barons and a potash mogul

Former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Bill Boyd was in China in March pitching an investment scheme to Chinese nationals interested in pursuing permanent residence in Canada. (Happy of Life)

Irrigation equipment purchased by would-be immigrants through an immigration scheme touted by former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Bill Boyd was to water land that Boyd farms, CBC's iTeam has learned.

The revelation comes from an online map identifying several quarter sections of land (160 acres each) as designated for the next phase of an irrigation scheme Boyd has promoted to Chinese nationals seeking permanent residence in Canada.

Ian Stedman, a lawyer who specializes in political ethics at Osgoode Hall Law School in Ontario, said this finding amplifies criticisms of Boyd being in a potential conflict of interest. While Boyd is no longer a minister, he is still a Saskatchewan Party MLA until his retirement at the end of the month.

"Now that we know his land is where these pivots are going to be, so he'll receive the benefit of the irrigation, he's in a direct conflict," said Stedman.

Last week, CBC revealed that in March Boyd spoke at a Beijing seminar as the pitch man for Saskatchewan-based Modern Hi-Efficiency Agriculture Corporation. Boyd told CBC he's the chairman.

Bill Boyd, left, and his associate Ning Xu presenting details about an irrigation investment project that may help Chinese nationals gain permanent residence in Canada. (Happy of Life)

Just before CBC broke the story, Modern Hi-Efficiency changed its name to AgroTarget Corporation. The company's directors, Yonggang Yang and Ning Xu, now say Boyd has nothing to do with the company.

The pitch was this: In exchange for a $300,000 investment from a Chinese national, Modern Hi-Efficiency would form a partnership with the investor, and together they would purchase irrigation equipment.

The company claimed this partnership may qualify the Chinese investor for permanent residence in Canada under the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program, which Boyd oversaw as Minister of the Economy until he resigned last August.

"He's standing before that group of investors pitching them an idea that he stands to directly benefit from on his land that he's farming.  So there is no doubt in my mind that he should know better than to do that," Stedman said.

The immigration-irrigation scheme is now the subject of two investigations by Saskatchewan's conflict of interest commissioner: one initiated by Boyd and the other by the provincial NDP.

The NDP raised concerns because Boyd used to be the minister overseeing immigration and now is involved in a company attempting to benefit from that same system. In addition, advertising for the seminar in China falsely presented Boyd as the Minister of the Economy long after he resigned.

Boyd has insisted that he is not in a conflict of interest but he referred the matter to the commissioner for the sake of clarity. He said the Chinese promoter referring to him as the minister was a Chinese cultural sign of respect, not willful misrepresentation. He also said he was clear with the Beijing audience that he was there as a businessman and farmer, not a politician.

Chinese-owned equipment to water Boyd's fields

Modern Hi-Efficiency has been unclear about just what land in particular the jointly-owned irrigation equipment would water.

Earlier this month, CBC interviewed Xu about the project. Xu confirmed the plan was for the irrigation equipment to be placed on company-owned farmland.

When asked if the company had any land yet, he said: "Yeah, we're trying to buy some land, but not successful right now."

But in a July 17 posting on a popular Chinese bulletin board website, Modern Hi-Efficiency's Chinese representative, Happy of Life, revealed the company plans to irrigate land farmed by Boyd and his son.

The online posting features photos of Boyd's Beijing seminar and a detailed description of Modern Hi-Efficiency's offering. It also features powerpoint slides highlighting key details about the program.

One section of the presentation reveals Modern Hi-Efficiency's plan to roll out its irrigation program in two phases.

Phase 1 was to be a pilot project, located on a quarter section of Crown land that Boyd farms near the South Saskatchewan River. 
Phase 1 of the irrigation program was a pilot project, which was located on the land indicated by the red circle. It is land Bill Boyd farms just south of Eston, Sask. (Happy of Life)

The website says the project has been running for two years and has seen crop production on the canola field almost double that of non-irrigated land. It indicates the plan is for more irrigation pivots, as shown on the map.

The Happy of Life representative also posted a map showing phase 2 of the irrigation project.
This map from a Powerpoint presentation shows the farmland that will be part of phase 2 of the immigration-related irrigation project promoted by Bill Boyd. (Happy of Life)

"Land in red and yellow are our land," the post says, referring to the colour-coded map. "In the future, all surrounding areas can be purchased and developed into irrigation land."

Neighbours have confirmed with CBC that Boyd farms much of the land identified in red and yellow on the map.

Potash company bought land from Boyd's son

Some of the highlighted land is owned by Universe Investment Holding Ltd.

Universe is a Saskatchewan company that holds potash permits. All of its shares are owned by Yang, and Xu is one of its directors. Both men are from Saskatoon. They are also the only two directors of Modern Hi-Efficiency (now AgroTarget).

In April 2017, Universe purchased five quarter sections of land from Boyd's son Regan and his numbered company. Then it immediately leased that land back to Regan. The elder Boyd and his son farm together.

From a search of the land titles record, this appears to be the only land Universe owns.

Tappauf family owns some of the land

Six of the highlighted quarter sections farmed by Boyd are owned by members of the Tappauf family or its companies.

The Tappaufs are an Alberta family that own tens of thousands of acres of farmland in Saskatchewan and rents thousand of those acres to Boyd.

The family name came to prominence in Saskatchewan political circles in February 2016 when CBC broke the story of the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) land deal scandal.

Confused about the GTH land deal? Here's a short explainer video

6 years ago
Duration 8:40
In 2015, CBC Saskatchewan's iTeam started looking into a transaction between the Global Transportation Hub and a Regina developer. This video is a summary of what CBC has learned since then.

That story highlighted the fact that two prominent businesspeople made millions on a series of transactions that saw 200 acres of land wind up in government hands for much more than the property was worth. Boyd was involved in directing some of those transactions.

Robert Tappauf made about $6 million on his transactions. CBC reported that in addition to the business relationship, a Tappauf family-owned company donated to Boyd's 2011 election campaign and made donations to the Saskatchewan Party as well.

When asked about his relationship to Robert Tappauf at the time, Boyd said: "I have never met Robert Tappauf. At no time did I ever speak to Robert Tappauf about anything regarding the Global Transportation Hub or any land pertaining to that project."

According to the online map, the land slated to be part of the irrigation project is owned by Walter Tappauf & Sons Ltd, Edwin Tappauf Farms Ltd., Karl Tappauf, Walter Tappauf and Gary Tappauf.

CBC sent a copy of the map to Boyd and representatives of Modern Hi-Efficiency asking questions about it. No one has responded.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo is a Michener Award nominated investigative journalist and a Canadian Screen Award winning documentary producer and director. He has been covering Saskatchewan stories since 2001.

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