Swenson calls for review of farmland sale to CPP

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Star Pheonix | 22 July 2014
"When you make a decision like this, where you open up (farmland ownership) to a pension plan, whether it's Canadian or non-Canadian ... you're making a fundamental shift in the way you've treated this particular resource," says Rick Swensen, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan.
 
Swenson calls for review of farmland sale to CPP
 
By Bruce Johnstone
 
The $128-million deal announced last December that saw Canada Pension Plan acquire 46,500 hectares of Saskatchewan farmland from Assiniboia Farmland LP was "wrong, both legally and morally," says Rick Swenson, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan.

Swenson is taking to the airwaves to see if anyone else shares his concerns about the deal, and renewing his call for the Farm Land Security Board to review the deal. The PC Party is running ads on three radio stations encouraging people to support the party's "call for action" by signing an online petition.

"Right from the get-go, I think there's been a lack of due diligence here," Swenson said in an interview Monday. "The initial announcement was made just before Christmas ... Nobody was paying much attention."

Swenson's concerns about the deal go beyond the timing of the sale, which was jointly announced Dec. 12 by Regina-based Assiniboia Capital Corp. and Toronto-based CPP Investment Board.
Assiniboia Farmland LP was formed in 2005 to allow private investors to buy Saskatchewan farmland and was the largest farmland investment fund in Canada at the time of the sale. The fund buys farmland from farmers, then leases the land back to producers, generating rental revenue for the fund's investors. While Assiniboia's investors were bought out, Assiniboia Capital Corp. continues to manage the fund on behalf of CPPIB.

This spring, Swenson blasted the deal as a "precedent-setting sale of Saskatchewan's greatest resource," and called for the Farm Land Security Board to investigate the purchase. In May, the FLSB replied that the sale of farmland to the CPP was outside its jurisdiction.

"Canadian-owned entities and Canadian residents may own an interest in farm land under the legislation without the involvement of FLSB," said Dwayne Anderson, chair of the FLSB, in a letter to Swenson.

However, Swenson said he wants to see what legal opinions the FLSB sought. "When you make a decision like this, where you open up (farmland ownership) to a pension plan, whether it's Canadian or non-Canadian ... you're making a fundamental shift in the way you've treated this particular resource."

Swenson said he has no problem with opening up ownership of Saskatchewan farmland to Canadians, as long as they continue to farm the land. "We need more farmers, not less, so you want to open it up. But this is speculation."

Economy Minister Bill Boyd wasn't available to comment on Swenson's latest accusation Monday, but responded to his initial call for an investigation into the sale in late April.

"In Saskatchewan, the legislation around farmland ownership was put in place by the NDP (government), ... with the most recent changes (made) somewhere around 2002 ... It allows Canadians to have investments into farmland here in Saskatchewan.

"So it's little bit hard to argue that the Canada Pension Plan, which represents people from all across Canada, is somehow not Canadian and shouldn't be able to invest in farmland here."
Boyd added the Ministry of Justice was asked for a legal opinion on the sale and the ministry determined the transaction was within the rules and the deal was allowed to proceed.

The CPPIB issued the following statement Monday: "CPPIB has followed all related requirements to proceed with this transaction including notification to the Farm Land Security Board. CPPIB is a wholly Canadian-owned entity and is a permitted buyer under the province's ownership regulation."

Doug Emsley, president of Assiniboia Capital Corp., didn't return phone calls from The Leader-Post Monday.

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Original source: Star Phoenix
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