REGINA — Nearly nine out of every 10 people who responded to a Saskatchewan government survey say they don't want the province's farmland to end up in foreign hands.
Eighty-seven per cent of the more than 3,200 people who responded said they don't support foreign ownership of Saskatchewan farmland. Seventy-five per cent also say they're opposed to allowing investors such as Canadian pension funds to purchase farmland in the province.
Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart says the results speak loud and clear.
"I'm not going to discuss the details of what would be in potential legislation, but I'm hopeful that we can introduce legislation that will reflect what the people asked for," Stewart said Wednesday at the legislature.
The issue of who can own farmland in Saskatchewan has prompted a spirited debate that was sparked after the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board started buying up farms in 2013. The rules currently don't allow institutional investors to own Saskatchewan farmland and limit foreign ownership to four hectares, but the investment board's structure made it eligible.
The Opposition NDP says it's time to fix the Saskatchewan Farm Ownership Act, which allowed the investment board purchase.
"People in Saskatchewan are very concerned about the some of the trends we see in, first of all, loopholes in the act, and secondly, the fear of foreign investment dollars creeping their way into purchasing farmland in Saskatchewan," says NDP agriculture critic Cathy Sproule.
The majority of people who took part in the consultations — 95 per cent — were Saskatchewan residents and 62 per cent were farmers.
Farmers have raised concerns about loopholes they say allow a variety of investors to drive up rents and farmland prices in the province.
One submission said: "I don't want to be sending land rental cheques to someone who doesn't know our area. I want them to be spending money in our community and having kids and grandkids that help our community thrive, not disappear."
Another wrote: "I'm a young farmer and can't compete with the high land prices and rents brought on by outside investors but would like to own land for my farm operation."
"I don't know if it would have or not affected the farmland prices, but it was clearly time to hear what people thought about this and they think it will," said Stewart.
The agriculture minister said in August that Saskatchewan won't impose restrictions on Canadians who want to buy farms in the province, but he wouldn't rule out anything as the government looks at the laws on farmland ownership.
Despite what appears to be a move to protect what Stewart describes as a "strategic resource," he says Saskatchewan is still a good place for both domestic and foreign investment.
"Farmland in many provinces is not available to foreign investors, and many states in the United States as well, and so this should not affect foreign investment in this province one little bit. If the wishes of the respondents to the survey are carried out and followed through in legislation, most people won't notice much change at all, I would suggest," said Stewart.
Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press