Losing Control in Western Canada: Private Equity Firms and Land Purchases

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:55 PM
Room: Booth 61
Oral Presentation
Bruce MUIRHEAD , University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada
My paper will investigate the changing nature of land ownership in Western Canada. This  is occurring largely because of the activities of Canadian private equity firms in purchasing vast tracts of farmland as investment properties, and the concomitant social and economic transformation that is happening among the rural population as their lives are affected by it. These are striking developments whose effects remain largely unknown and unstudied given that the practice was non-existent in Canada five years ago. However, they have the potential to fundamentally alter the relationship of people with the land. What will be the medium and long-term effect of this development on agriculture in Canada? Is there a transfer of ownership and control of farmland in Canada, with the resultant loss of community, culture and food supply, and a deteriorating environmental and ecological condition? What effects, if any, will this have on land quality, use of resources and food security?

While private property is strongly engrained in the socio-cultural experience of farmers, as well as corporations, their definitions could collide when those of the former relate to identification of time and place and those of the latter relate to profit and exploitation. Is it the case that the cultural, spiritual and social importance of land to individuals is often ignored when the value of land is determined? Through an analysis of federal and provincial policy, examining the content of interviews undertaken with officials and politicians from both levels of government as well as with farmers and senior management from private equity firms, and an evaluation of industry documentation, my paper will seek to answer the questions posed above.