P.E.I. Land Transfers: It’s All Political

Guest Opinion – Charlottetown Guardian, April 15, 2019

By Douglas Campbell and Edith Ling

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has heard the Hon. Richard Brown’s repeated declarations that the government decisions on land transfers are “not political.”

However, this is P.E.I. With our history of rampant political suspicions, it is natural to believe that a major decision made just before the 2019 election campaign may, in fact, be quite political. It is also natural to wonder why a politician needs to say so forcefully and so often that “it is not political.”

On the very day the premier “dropped the writ” (March 26, 2019), executive council had denied the application of a cluster of Irving companies to purchase 2,200 acres in the Bedeque area. This should have calmed the concerned Island residents (aka voters) that the P.E.I. government is indeed upholding the spirit and the letter of the Lands Protection Act. In ordinary circumstances, this is a “good news” story.

Of course, we should always expect, and not just at election time, that the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) would recommend the denial of an application of this cluster of companies controlled by the same corporate family. And we should expect the premier and his cabinet to deny this proposed unlawful transfer of land. Compliance with the Lands Protection Act demanded this because the act states the following: “for the purposes of this Act, a corporation and other corporations directly or indirectly controlled by the same person, group or organization shall be deemed to be one corporation.” (section 1 (d)).

It is clear in the Lands Protection Act that the “one corporation” can have ownership of no more than 3,000 acres of arable land. Many Island residents know that the same “family, group or organization” seems to be able to form many interlocking corporations. Using this mechanism, they can take control of large acreages. It appears as though the P.E.I. government, through executive council, has sanctioned what appears to many people to be violations of the act.

On the same day as the denial of the Irving cluster application, executive council approved the application of another Irving corporation, Island Holdings Ltd. The acquisition was 100.25 acres. The directors of Island Holdings Ltd. are Robert K. Irving and James K. Irving. It is noted that another Irving Company, Grand Forest Holdings, Inc. of Saint John, N.B. is a shareholder in Island Holdings. It is interesting that Island Holdings was the Irving-owned corporation which was found in violation of the Lands Protection Act in 2008. They were required to divest and pay a modest fine. At that time, investigators pointed out that it was difficult to judge Irving’s compliance because of the company’s complicated system of sub-leasing farmland. That remains a challenge eleven years later.

The National Farmers Union indicates that we are using the example of the Irvings because their control seems to be so wide-ranging. There are other corporations under our scrutiny. We insist that the government, which will be elected on April 23, must immediately establish a third-party investigative team to examine and report publicly on past approvals of land acquisitions with special attention to interlocking corporations. We expect this third party to set up a mechanism for ongoing monitoring of the recommendations of IRAC and the decisions of the executive council. Above all, we want farmers and all Islanders to be knowledgeable and on the alert.

Party Leaders’ Forum on Environmental Issues

IMG_5370As part of the lead up to the provincial election on April 23, a coalition of 20 Island organizations involved in a  range of environmental and conservation issues on PEI is hosting an all-party leaders’ forum on environmental issues on Monday, April 8th at 7 pm, in MacDougall Hall at UPEI.

This will be an important opportunity for the leaders of our political parties to clearly articulate their positions on a variety of key environmental issues. It is a particularly challenging time for the health of the Island environment. In addition to the longstanding issues associated with the quality of our soil, water and air, we now also face the urgency of climate change.

Dr Carolyn Peach-Brown, Chair of Environmental Studies at UPEI will moderate the forum. Leaders will respond to questions that have been prepared by the hosting organizations. There will also be time for questions from the audience.

Party Leaders’ Debate on the Land – Tuesday April 9

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The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Lands has invited the leaders of the four political parties to take part in a public debate on urgent land-related issues in Prince Edward Island. The debate will take place on Tuesday, April 9th at 7 pm at the Murchison Centre in Charlottetown.

The leaders of three parties have confirmed their participation: the Progressive Conservative Party of PEI, Green Party of PEI and the New Democratic Party of PEI. The leader of the Liberal Party of PEI, Premier Wade MacLauchlan, will not be attending.

The Coalition notes that Islanders are increasingly voicing their concerns about ownership, control, and use of the land. PEI residents are taking seriously the impacts of land grabbing, the condition of soil health and the erosion of our rural communities.

The purpose of the debate is to give PEI voters an opportunity to hear the leaders address the importance of land issues and their policies for the real protection of PEI lands.

Leaders will answer written questions submitted from members of the Coalition. If time permits, questions will also be solicited from the audience. This will be a moderated event and will follow a nonpartisan, unbiased and impartial format. The moderator is Bill McGuire, journalist, recently retired editorial /opinion page editor of The Guardian.

2019 Convention Highlights

 

The NFU District Convention was held on March 19 at North Milton. And what a day it was! The hall was filled to the brim. The agenda was just as full, with presentations on lands protection, water extraction, impacts of trade agreements on the dairy industry and an update on land holdings data from IRAC.

As to be expected, District Directors Doug Campbell’s report to the convention was powerful – read the whole thing here.

The following resolutions were passed, calling on government to:
– enforce the Lands Protection Act, to reflect spirit and intent and to close the loopholes in the Act.
– address the depletion of soil organic matter by enforcing the Crop Rotation Act, and to require that hay or cover crops be planted in one year of the rotation
– find sustainable alternatives to neonicotinoid insecticides as well as other synthetic pesticides – including integrated pest management supports/services, and incentives and supports for farmers to transition to more regenerative and organic methods of production. Continue reading