Two issues arose this last weekend that are of importance to a lot of Canadians and to Saskatchewan. You wouldn’t think these two issues would be related but they are.
This past weekend, the Federal Finance Minister and his provincial counterparts met to discuss the Canada Pension Plan and its future. Many provinces believe the contributions to the plan must be significantly increased in order to ensure viability for future Canadians. The Federal Minister seems to believe that increasing contributions from employers and their employees would adversely affect the Canadian economy. I think we have all known for some time that the Canada Pension Plan must be upgraded to ensure that all Canadians have adequate pension benefits. This does not preclude Canadians from putting money aside on their own in order to ensure secure retirements.
You are probably wondering why I raise this issue when there are so many others in Saskatchewan that need comment on. I raise this because last Friday, there was an announcement by a Saskatchewan company that they have been bought out by an arm of the Canadian Pension Plan. This company, the Assiniboia Land Company, owned by one Doug Emsley – yes the same Doug Emsley that was chair of the PC Party Trust Fund and head of Brad Wall’s transition team in 2007 - has sold his company for $128 million and it will now be the property of all Canadians who pay into the CPP. Mr. Emsley and his partners will continue to manage the company and be paid a management fee to do so.
I didn’t know that buying land in Saskatchewan was even on the radar for the CPP because it certainly never advertised the fact that it was and I have certainly never heard of it purchasing land in any other province. I am wondering if all of the other land-owning companies that have been set up over the last few years in Saskatchewan are also going to be selling their assets to the Canadian Pension Plan.
This sale raises a number of questions that I think should be answered before this transaction goes ahead. On checking the publicly-available financial statements of this company, it shows that there is at least $13 million owing to Farm Credit Canada and also that the principle owner, Mr. Emsley, is on the Board of Directors of the Bank of Canada. I find it strange that one arm of government would end up paying the bills of another arm of government whether it is direct or indirect and I would also think that sitting on the Board of Directors of the Bank of Canada would give any individual knowledge that many others would not have and in fact, could be, a conflict of interest.
I am certainly not alleging any impropriety but when there seems to be so many different issues arising from this transaction, I think it would be appropriate for some outside judicial source to do a review. Perhaps someone from the Federal Court of Canada would be sufficiently removed from this transaction to give an unbiased opinion or perhaps one of the Securities Commissions could be involved in a similar manner.
What are the prospects for contributors of the Canadian Pension Plan if commodities continue their dramatic fall and the cash rents paid by farmers to farm the land companies’ lands are dramatically reduced? This could significantly reduce the return on investment that all of us that contribute to CPP would receive. Will not CPP be obligated to purchase other land company assets once this particular one has been purchased or is it that Mr. Emsley and company have something that is very special compared to the rest?
Maybe what they have “special” are the right connections with the right people. Everyone knows that it’s who you know and not what you know sometimes in life. Let’s have an impartial third party take a look at this transaction before it’s a done deal. Improving CPP is obviously very important to a lot of Canadians. I’m not sure this transaction is good for CPP or good for farming in Saskatchewan. Our land is our greatest resource. Is this how we want it to end up?
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.