Backgrounder - Devolution of the Community Pasture Program

BACKGROUNDER

Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act

Devolution of the Community Pasture Program

 

The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (PFRA) that created the Community Pasture Program was enacted on April 17, 1935.  The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration’s (PFRA) mandate was to rehabilitate land affected by soil drifting and to develop and promote 'systems of farm practice, tree culture, water supply and land utilization' that would rehabilitate eroded fields and ultimately the economic security of farmers in the region.  PFRA currently operates 87 community pastures across the Prairies, with 62 pastures in Saskatchewan covering 1.78 million acres.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is changing its priorities on how its supports the agriculture industry. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, on April 18, 2012, committed to the following:

 

  • That this transition will not affect the pastures in the upcoming season and will remain open for the 2012 season;
  • That pastures will be transitioned out of federal management gradually over six years, allowing time for provinces, municipalities, users and other stakeholders to help manage the transition;
  • That AAFC will divest 10 pastures in 2013, followed by additional pastures each year until full divestiture is achieved in 2018;
  • That grazing and breeding services on remaining pastures will be maintained throughout this period; and
  • That pasture patrons will receive as much notice as possible.

 

Of the 1.78 million PFRA acres located in Saskatchewan, 1.6 million acres will revert back to the province.

 

On April 19, 2012, Vice-Chief Bobby Cameron sent correspondence to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz stating that the “First Nations are concerned with the fact that your Ministry failed to include them in this program by not allowing them the opportunity to acquire these lands for their land settlement agreements.”

 

On June 22, 2012, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz replied to Vice-Chief Bobby Cameron advising that his Ministry is “conducting a comprehensive review of the title holdings of all of the community pastures which will be conducted over a period of six years, with no changes for the 2012 grazing season.”  Minister Ritz commits to “consider the Treaty Land Entitlement agreements, specific claim agreements and the obligation to consult as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Haida/Taku/Mikisew Cree, as and when they apply.”

 

On May 30, 2012, Alan Parkinson, Manager of the PFRA program, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has committed to continue to inform and engage the First Nations while the devolution of the Community Pasture Program proceeds.  Alan Parkinson attended the most recent Lands and Resources Commission meeting and advised the Commission Chiefs that those TLE and Specific Claim First Nations interested in acquiring these PFRA lands should make the selections through their agreements in order to “freeze” these lands and as such would ensure that the TLE and Specific Claim First Nations would be involved in this process.

On August 20, 2012, Current Agriculture Minster Lyle Stewart stated in the Regina Leader-Post that his Ministry has “established an advisory committee of Industry leaders and cattle producers which recommended a number of principles for the transition, including giving patron groups the opportunity to own and operate each pasture.”

 

On August 22, 2012, Vice-Chief Bobby Cameron sent correspondence to Minister Stewart reminding him again that there are “33 First Nations in Saskatchewan with Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) agreements with five other First Nations currently in negotiations.  There are a further 21 First Nations with specific claim agreements, with land acquisition provisions as part of their settlements.  All of these First Nations are currently active in acquiring available land, many of which have expressed a firm interest in acquiring federal pasture lands.  These First Nations are concerned with your statements to the media which indicate that once again, First Nations with land entitlement and specific claims have been excluded from opportunities, including the opportunity to acquire federal pasture lands for their land settlement agreements.”

 

Minister Stewart has yet to reply to this correspondence.  However, the Lands & Resources Secretariat staff has contacted Wally Hoehm, Director of Lands Branch, Minister of Agriculture, Government of Saskatchewan, regarding the program and to invite him to attend the next Lands & Resources Commission on October 2, 2012, to discuss the devolution of the PFRA Community Pasture Program with the Chiefs.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

 

It is recommended that:

 

  1. The Entitlement and Specific Claim First Nations select these PFRA lands and forward their B.C.R.s and letter of intent to the province and Canada – and then go to Information Services Corporation and file caveats on the titles of the PFRA lands as an interest on the land due to outstanding TLE and Specific Claim obligations. Please consult with the lawyer that your First Nation retains as part of your TLE or Specific Claims agreements.  The First Nations must do this on their own; the FSIN cannot make land selections on behalf of the Entitlement and Specific Claim First Nations.

 

  1. The Entitlement and Specific Claim First Nations send correspondence to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and provincial Agriculture Minster Lyle Stewart demanding that the Entitlement and Specific Claim First Nations not be excluded nor treated as mere stakeholders with respect to planned devolution of the PFRA lands program due to the governments’ obligations to the Entitlement and Specific Claim First Nations under their land claim agreements.

 

The Honourable Gerry Ritz                            The Honourable Lyle Stewart
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada                 Minister of Agriculture
1341 Baseline Road                                        Room 334 Legislative Building
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C5                               2405 Legislative Drive

Regina, SK, S4S 0B3The FSIN Assist a

 

  1. The FSIN assist a TLE and/or Specific Claim First Nation to access funds from the Treaty Rights Protection Fund to litigate this issue in the event the provincial and federal Crowns fail to properly consult and accommodate, or in the event either the provincial and/or federal Crowns breached their respective duties to fulfill its obligations to provide land.