Earlier this month, I attended the first half of a farm and business tax seminar that was sponsored by OMAFRA. The topic of discussion during most of the morning session was on legal trusts. From a farmer’s perspective, a legal trust is an entity that can protect a farmer’s assets, both during his/her life and also at his/her death. A trust is also a tool that can be used to improve one’s tax position and allow the avoidance of probate fees on certain assets. The first of two speakers on this topic was Peter Lillico, a lawyer and partner from Lillico, Bazuk, Kent, Galloway in Peterborough. Although a trust can be a useful tool to farmers, I find it a bit of a oxymoron that a ‘lawyer’ is needed to create a ‘trust’. The two words just don’t seem to go hand in hand. Nonetheless, if you’re going to have a trust, one must have a lawyer.
Adding the accounting perspective to the trust side of the discussion was Kurt Oelschlagel from the Hanover office of BDO Dunwoody. The information that was presented was very thought-provoking and provided a ‘security blanket’ option for farmers to use to enhance their farm succession plans. Even though the topic for the morning could be somewhat dry and cause one’s eyes to glaze over, the speakers managed to provide appropriate examples to which farmers could relate.
Also presenting in the morning was Rob Gamble from OMAFRA. Rob provided an update on the most recent StatsCan information on farmers and various farm activities and crops. Comparisons from previous years were also presented. In listening to his comments and presentation of the statistics, I question the reliability of the information. I know that the information was retrieved from the farming participants and tabulated accurately but as one of the participants in that survey, I had many questions during the completion of the survey. Most of the questions were accounting in nature and could be taken directly from a tax return and/or financial statements but the interpretation of the questions in the survey could lead the participant to many different conclusions and thus many different answers. Depending on the participant’s interpretation of the question, one answer might be completely different from the interpretaion of another participant, providing misleading results. Providing the answers to the survey was done by telephone. I simply went from blank to blank giving the answers that I had previously recorded, reciting them to the person from StatsCan. No other questions were asked and no follow-up questions were presented. Completion of the survey was quite time-consuming and I found myself annoyed that I had to take the time to do it. I am currently trying to determine what the penalty for not completing it might be. I’m sure that answer will provide more fuel to my annoyance. I wondered how many other participants were reluctant. Did the reluctance cause them to hurriedly complete the questions, leaving more room for error? Based on all of these factors, I don’t put a great deal of credence in the results of the survey and quite frankly, it worries me that OMAFRA and many other organizations use this easily skewed information. Reminds me a little of the Enron scandal or the RIM Park fiasco in Waterloo, Ontario.
Unfortunately I had to miss the afternoon portion of the seminar. The CAIS program was the topic of the afternoon session. As a farmer, I appreciated the opportunity that OMAFRA provided for me to gather information to assist in my farming operations. When I registered for this type of educational event, I looked forward to an informative day and a lunch that I didn’t have to prepare. That’s always good news – except for my husband at home who has to fix his own lunch. Although my husband may have been disappointed, I was not.