Northern Saskatchewan cottage owners are continuing to push back against the provincial government’s current policy in regards to rents and pricing of crown lots in the north.

In 2019 the provincial government announced substantial increases in rents for people with buildings on land owned by the provincial government. The increases were eventually reduced after much public push back by many land lease holders and are set to be reevaluated again in another two years.

The province has since offered to sell lease holders their land, however Greg East, who is with the North East Cottage Association (NESCA), said the provincial government is pricing all the lots in the north the same regardless of their location.

“Every lot is created equal and they are all for sale for $50,000 each, doesn’t matter what the market might say,” he said.

East explained the province’s decision to price all northern lots the same is the result of them misreading a consultant’s report which also looked at lease fees and helped determine what would be considered a fair rate of return in regards to rent for the lots. He said the mistake is a result of the province working from an estimated bench mark number, which is an average of all of the lots in the north.

“On page two of the report and it’s a 104 page report, on page two he clearly states that, that number is not useful or usable for setting the price or value of any one of these individual lots in the NSAD, that price value must be arrived at with adjustments based on the usual mitigating factors in real-estate,” said East.

East added there are around 1,000 crown owned lots in the north and said as far as he knows only between 20 to 40 have been sold since the province made their offer to lease holders. East said the fact so few lots have been sold shows there is an issue.

“That lack of interest in buying them at that price indicates that the price isn’t correct,” he said.

The frustration over the situation has led to East taking some direct action on his own to try to raise awareness about the issue. This led him to stage a one day protest in Premier Scott Moe’s home community of Shellbrook in July where he held up signs and handed out information.

“I wanted to bring the voice of opposition right to his home,” he said.

After many years of lobbying the province with little success East said he is planning to take the matter to court in the form of a class action lawsuit on behalf northern cottage owners. He said the province’s misinterpretation of the consultant’s report will be at the forefront of the action.

“It apparently is the only thing that the government will listen to is a lawsuit,” he said.

Province stands by current policy

In an email response to MBC Radio News, the Ministry of Environment stood by their decisions on rental rates and the pricing of lots. The province as well stood by the consultant’s report.

The Ministry of Environment is responsible for providing opportunities for the private use of publicly owned land while ensuring a reasonable return to the people of the province for such use. Fees were adjusted in 2019 after a comprehensive review, the first in more than 12 years, that found many were well below market value.

Fees were set using consultant reports to estimate market value for various kinds of dispositions. For remote recreational Crown leases specifically, the ministry contracted an accredited land appraiser to provide an assessment of market value potential, looking at other jurisdictions, and the sale and rental markets for cabin properties on both public and private lands. This report estimated the market value of a remote recreational lease to be $1,500 per year, which the ministry accepted, proposing to phase in the increase over two years initially, to allow time for clients to adjust. The lease fee for a standard sized remote recreational lease increased from a nominal $275 per year to $888, where it remains currently. Annual rental fees were held at the current $888 per year and will next be evaluated for the 2025/26 fiscal year.

The Ministry of Environment has more than 3,500 clients, holding more than 6,000 dispositions of various types, including approximately 975 remote recreation dispositions.

Cumberland MLA discusses issue

Doyle Vermette, the opposition MLA for Cumberland said he has heard from people who’s rates have been increasing and are concerned about it.

“We’ve had people contact us and I’ve heard people saying the fees, lease fees are going up and you’re hearing people frustrated with the price,” he said.

When it comes to the controversy around how the rental rates and prices of lots are determined, Vermette said it is not something he himself entirely understands. He added the current government is not always good about sharing information.

“I don’t even understand, I am just hearing people saying the prices are ridiculous,” he said.

Going forward Vermette said he will be working to get some answers on the issue to try to lessen the level of confusion and bring overall clarity.

“I think it just warrants everyone asking exactly what is the plan here,” he said.

(Top Photo: A protest sign in front of Saskatchewan Party billboard. Photo submitted by Greg East.)