Quebec’s winter trails to remain open as tax reform halted

Snowmobile trails going through farmland owned by members of Quebec’s Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) will remain open as the province hits the brakes on changes to its farmland property tax credit plan.

UPA members had recently pledged to revoke previously-permitted access to their land for snowmobile trails starting Monday (Feb. 6) in a dispute dating back to last March’s provincial budget.

Laurent Lessard, the province’s new agriculture minister as of Jan. 26, announced Friday he had stopped the planned rollout of reforms to the farm property tax credit program (PCTFA) and would revert it to the program model that was in place up until Dec. 31.

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In a statement, Lessard said he was choosing the “economic development of the regions” over the PCTFA reform plan.

The province had announced last March that management of the PCTFA would shift to Revenu Quebec (RQ) starting Jan. 1 this year, with an eye toward simplifying the program and easing eligibility requirements to allow an additional 2,500 farmers to receive PCTFA benefits.

The UPA, however, has argued the changes to the PCTFA formula would lead to an average hike of 38 per cent in farmers’ property tax bills.

Lessard said the province was investing more money in the new PCTFA than under the existing program, but the “variations between certain producers were judged to be unacceptable.”

Discussions last week with UPA representatives showed the two sides were in an “irreconcilable situation,” he said Friday.

Despite calling a halt to the PCTFA reform plan, Lessard said he still wants to work on ways to help smaller-scale producers by creating a new tax credit program in the near future.

UPA president Marcel Groleau, in a separate statement, said the province had made a “good decision” in cancelling the PCTFA reform plan and it was no longer necessary for farmers to revoke access to their land for off-road trails.

However, he said, the province has not yet announced any plans to work with farmers, municipalities and the relevant provincial ministries on a sustainable farm property taxation model.

The UPA has estimated farmland values have seen a “substantial” rise of 800 per cent over the past 20 years, and the assessment model used by municipalities has added to the tax pressure on farmers, Groleau said.

Parti Quebecois ag critic Andre Villeneuve, in a separate statement, agreed the province mustn’t sweep the issue of farmland taxation under the carpet.

Villeneuve said he had warned the Liberal government last April that the planned changes to the PCTFA could leave individual farmers paying thousands more out of pocket. “Why wait until there are real negative impacts on the tourism season to act?”

Denise Grenier, presidente of Quebec’s federation of snowmobile clubs (FCMQ), said in a separate statement Friday her organization was “very satisfied” that the dispute was resolved. — AGCanada.com Network

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