Quebec farmers to shut snowmobile trails in tax dispute

Snowmobile groups urge resolution between UPA, province

UPA
The UPA mounted a public campaign to put pressure on the provincial government to reconsider its plans for the farmland tax credit program. (UPA.qc.ca)

Members of Quebec’s general farm organization plan to revoke permission for snowmobilers to use their land starting Monday, in protest over the province’s planned reforms to its farmland property tax credit.

L’Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) said Wednesday it had been planning such a move in late 2016 but on Dec. 20 had asked members to hold off on withdrawing access to their land until Feb. 1.

The UPA, in a release, said it had hoped delaying the move would allow the provincial government to better assess the “negative effects” of proposed reforms to its farm property tax credit program (PCTFA) and work with municipalities, provincial ministries and the UPA on a sustainable solution.

The delay is now over and farmers are asked to withdraw public snowmobiling privileges starting Feb. 6, the UPA said, in the hopes that a firm deadline and a new minister in charge of the agriculture file will help resolve the issue.

The UPA said Thursday it knows “certain producers” have already withdrawn access to their land and respects their decision. “They have been very patient,” the group said.

The group’s move is in response to an announcement last March from the province that management of the PCTFA would shift to Revenu Quebec (RQ) starting Jan. 1 this year.

The province at the time said its goal in shifting the program to RQ jurisdiction was to simplify the program and reduce its eligibility requirements, allowing an additional 2,500 farmers to receive PCTFA benefits.

The UPA forecasts, however, that changes to the PCTFA formula will lead an average hike of 38 per cent in farmers’ property tax bills, on top of increases in property taxes relating to farmland values, which the group said have risen by 800 per cent over the past 20 years.

At the end of December, then-agriculture minister Pierre Paradis appointed tax lawyer and Universite de Sherbrooke professor Luc Godbout to study the impact of PCTFA reform on Quebec farms and report to government by the end of February.

Paradis has since been removed from the provincial Liberal caucus for unrelated reasons and replaced by another former agriculture minister, Laurent Lessard.

The UPA said Thursday it will continue to make its case to the province and understands the recreational tourism industry will be disappointed, but said the issue involves real stakes for family farms and their future.

Quebec’s federation of snowmobile clubs, the Federation des clubs de motoneigistes du Quebec (FCMQ), said it “recognizes the UPA’s right to make demands and act to defend its members’ interests.”

The FCMQ said it also supports the UPA’s demand to delay the implementation of the farmland tax reform, “without, however, being in agreement with the pressure tactic used.”

Snowmobile club administrators will respect farmers’ decisions on withdrawing land use, but “at no time will trail closures be initiated by member clubs,” the FCMQ said.

Closure of snowmobile trails on UPA members’ lands will lead to “significant negative impact” on winter tourism activity, the federation said.

“It is now one minute to midnight,” the FCMQ said, urging the province to “sit down with the UPA and negotiate in good faith in order to reach a mutually acceptable solution.”

The UPA membership previously threatened snowmobile trail closure in December 2010, in a dispute with the province over proposed changes to its ag income stabilization (ASRA) program. — AGCanada.com Network

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