By Edith Ling, Women’s District Director of the National Farmers Union and a member of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Land.
The Lands Protection Act was passed in this province in 1982 to prevent a large corporation of the day from amassing large tracts of land. In fact, this large corporation and a few others were forced to divest themselves of some land in order to comply with the Act. Individuals could own 1,000 acres of land and corporations were allowed to own 3,000 acres. When the Act was drafted, a corporation was considered to be family members, for example three brothers farming together or a similar combination of family members. Three individuals with 1,000 acres each added up to the 3,000 acreage limit for a corporation. We still have the Lands Protection Act in force today, so what has changed?
In recent years the National Farmers Union has become increasingly concerned about the large amount of farmland being gobbled up by corporations, off-shore investors, etc. Much of this is being done by circumventing the Act by forming multiple corporations within a family. The Government has turned a blind eye to these goings on, even though the Act gives the Minister of Communities, Land and Environment the right to deem such multiple corporations to be one corporation. It is very disappointing to see a good Act being abused and violated. The original purpose and intent of the Lands Protection Act is so commendable. Even more concerning is hearing a Charlottetown lawyer say that his firm has helped purchasers to “get around ” the Act.
To tell it like it is, one has to say that land grabbing is alive and well in P. E. I. Why are folks from all over the world so anxious to own land in P. E. I.? The answer is simple – it is a great place to park money and speculate on its increase. You may say, well, what is the difference between who owns the land as long as it is being farmed? There is a huge difference. Farmers have no security in renting or leasing land from absentee owners. They could be told at any time that the land is no longer available. Farmers need to have the security of holding ownership of their land (or of renting from a public land banking system) and the privilege of being good stewards of the land in their care.
Over and over again we have seen the loopholes being used to circumvent the Lands Protection Act. Within the past week, applications from three Irving-owned companies have been made to IRAC for the purchase of over 2200 acres of land in North Bedeque and surrounding areas. If the Executive Council approves these applications, it shows a blatant disregard for the Act and a slap in the face for the individual farmers who want to purchase these parcels.