Stop This Attack on Island Farmland

GUEST OPINION BY EDITH LING

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In response to David Weale’s opinion article in The Guardian Nov. 29, Alan Holman, in the Dec. 1, issue of the newspaper, expressed his opinion that farmers and many Islanders are not concerned about who owns the land despite the takeover of Island farm land by large corporations, including the Irving empire and the sale of precious farm land to Asian interests (GEBIS, etc.).

One of the main purposes of this act is to preserve Island farmland for farm families and to prevent the accumulation of farm land in the hands of large industrial corporations, i.e. the Irvings. Now, they and other large corporations have found loopholes in the act all with the apparent blessing of the provincial government.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Holman did not attend the meeting of the Select Standing Committee on Communities, Land and the Environment Nov. 1, 2018 and witness the snow job presented by Robert Irving. Mr. Holman would have easily seen a very smooth presentation in which Irving asked that the land limits under the LPA be increased for potato producers.

Mr. Irving also subtly alluded to the fact that more high capacity wells are needed for irrigation purposes. The purpose of his appearing before the committee was to disclose his land holdings in this province. He did not provide this information, and not one committee member asked that question before the meeting was quickly brought to a close.

Mr. Irving applauded the P.E.I. Crop Rotation Act but later in the meeting it was revealed that many of his 83 process contract growers follow a two-year rotation rather than the three-year rotation suggested in the Act. Such action is resulting in the destruction of organic matter in Island soils which decreases the water-holding ability of the soil. Does Mr. Irving care? No, all he is interested in is higher yields per acre from the soil which is already over-taxed. It is clear that Irving wants our land and our water and his corporation is already making recommendations to government on what the regulations under the Water Act should look like.

Mr. Irving has been complaining about the lack of potatoes available for his plant. He might have sufficient potatoes if he had not dropped the contracts of a considerable number of growers several years ago. He has the current contract growers right where he wants them – buy every input, i.e. fertilizer, chemicals, etc. from the company store. Most contract growers would not dare to speak out about the bondage under which they exist for fear of losing their contract.

His contract price to growers is the lowest possible. Growers then are docked up to 20 per cent on every load delivered. All this results in many growers being kept in difficult financial situations. One can be assured that increased yields per acre will not result in better income for the farm families producing potatoes for the plant.

Mr. Weale has issued a clarion call for Islanders to wake up. We need to hear this call and act accordingly. If we don’t, it will be almost impossible for young farmers to obtain farm land; it will be very difficult for existing farmers to expand within the land limits, and the fabric of our rural communities will be further torn apart. Farmers represent a very small percentage of voters on election day so we need the general public to come on board and stop this attack on our Island farm land.

Edith Ling lives in North Winsloe and is women’s district director with the National Farmers Union

Understanding the Spirit of the Lands Protection Act

 

GUEST OPINION BY DOUGLAS CAMPBELL – JUNE 28, 2018

The National Farmers Union (NFU) notices and welcomes the community’s new expressions of interest about the Lands Protection Act. Islanders know the painful history of the land and how easily it can be taken from the people. Now we are in a new era in how land transactions take place. In 2018, the style of take-overs is more hidden than they were in other times. However, on the community level, people know who is taking control of vast acreages. What is not clear to the Island population is why the Lands Protection Act seems to be powerless to stop the rapid land grab so obvious in the rural community.

The NFU has not said that corporations and individuals are breaking the letter of the law set out in the Lands Protection Act. We are saying that there is an alarming ignorance on the part of policy makers and other Island residents about the spirit of the Act.

In 1982, then-Premier Angus MacLean made it clear that the spirit/intent of the act was to keep farm land in the control of Island farm families and to keep all lands in control of Islanders. Control of the land was Premier MacLean’s over-arching theme. Part of this was that individuals and corporations must be prohibited from amassing large land holding. The Act also put tight restrictions on non-resident purchases of land. There was no intention to discourage new people from becoming resident owners. It was meant to prevent absentee control of the land.

Our consultations with influential people, associates of Premier MacLean, tell the NFU that limiting land holding in the Act was an instrument of keeping Island land in specific Island hands. The restriction to 1,000 acres for individuals would prevent excessive concentration. It meant that more people, rather than fewer, would actually control the land. The 3,000-acre limit for corporations, in the vision of Premier MacLean, was meant as a business convenience for farm families.

The intent was that three members of a family group, e.g. a parent and two adult children could form a corporation. In this way, the original spirit of the Lands Protection Act was to keep farm land at the service of family farming model. It was never intended that the corporation limit would be manipulated to serve the interests of industrial agriculture. In fact, a five-acre limit was placed on industrial corporations (including processors).

So, to accept the spirit of the Lands Protection Act, in fact, requires accepting the original goals of keeping farm land in family farming. What a desecration to see the corporation allowance being manipulated for massive takeovers of farm land. Contrary to the spirit of the Act, the goal of this current takeover is to enlarge the profits of the powerful corporations, and to firmly establish the industrial farming model as the predominant agricultural structure.

Some people, including policy makers, seem to be easily confused about what a family farm is. The NFU has heard members of large corporations, controlling immense tracts of land in P.E.I., saying, “we are a family involved in farming, so we are a ‘family farm.” That does not make their operation a family farm. When we speak of family farms, we are not talking of industrial corporations with huge land spreads.

goal of industrial farming is to amass profit for the corporation, to increase its capital holdings. The family farm on the other hand is a unit of food production where the major production decisions are made by the farm family. The farm is small enough ideally to make production decisions and to allow it to be worked mainly by the family, of course with outside labour for the busy seasons. Central concerns are making a living for the farm family and caring for the land, air and water.

With new awareness in the community about land, and about the Lands Protection Act, the NFU urges Islanders to speak out. Those in power interpret silence as consent. The NFU wants to hear loud protests about the weakening of the Act and the failure of governments to protect our land for current and future generations.

– Douglas Campbell, dairy farmer in Southwest Lot 16, District Director of the National Farmers Union

Calling for an Independent Review of Land Holdings and Transfers

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by Douglas Campbell

May 3, 2017

Published in the Charlottetown Guardian

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has continuously raised the alarm in public about the conditions in which PEI land is being transferred. We therefore welcomed the announcement of the Minister of Communities, Land and Environment, the Honourable Richard Brown, that he is initiating a review of non-resident and corporate land holdings. However, we have serious concerns about the Minister putting this task into the hands of the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC).

The NFU understands and appreciates IRAC and its role to provide advice and recommendations to the Executive Council (the Cabinet) on all matters relating to the Lands Protection Act. IRAC receives all applications for land transfer to which the Lands Protection Act apply and recommend to the Cabinet either a denial or approval.

In our dealings over the years with IRAC, we take for granted the integrity of the Commission. They give as much information as possible to the public. However the NFU believes that because IRAC has authority only as delegated by government, the Commission may not be totally free to do a comprehensive and independent review of how the Lands Protection Act is administered.

It is difficult to understand the intent or scope of the proposed review, given that the Premier, the former Minister of Communities, Lands and Environment and the current Minister have all declared categorically that the letter of the Act is being followed. It would be difficult for IRAC to unearth findings which would contradict these authorities. The NFU even wonders if it is fair, given these circumstances to ask IRAC to perform this task.

The NFU has never claimed that the letter of the Act is violated. It seems, however, that there are loopholes in the Act, which appear to be easily navigated with the help of astute lawyers. The clearest example of a loophole is that a corporation can spawn various other corporations with separate directors, all of which, in reality, remain connected by access to the mother-corporation’s capital assets and management. The community knows that land is being concentrated and placed under the control of fewer and fewer corporations.

Following only the letter of the law is not sufficient for the land situation we are facing. The letter of the law and the spirit of the law must go hand-in-hand. The current proposed investigation concerns only the letter of the law. If we continue to follow only the letter of the law and ignore the spirit, intent, and purpose of the Act, then Island farmland will continue to be sold off to the highest bidder. Now is the time for government to shoulder its responsibility for this. The NFU is looking for real expressions of “political will” to truly protect PEI land according to the intent and spirit of the Lands Protection Act. The buck stops with the Government. The use of loopholes is in violation of the “spirit”, the intent, of the Act.

If we want to know the spirit of the Act we need to go back to its origins. The NFU has talked to key people who were involved in the early development of the Lands Protection Act. They speak clearly about what Premier Angus MacLean and his government intended. The intent, they say, was to keep all Island lands, including the shoreline, woods, and environmentally sensitive land in the hands of Islanders. The hope was that those who gained access to acreage would live on the land and actually farm it. People buying up farm land, and not farming it, are rightly called speculators and “land grabbers”. The original goal was to maintain farmland in responsible farming. The intent was to keep the land intact for future generations. Acreage limits were meant to serve this intent. The current excessive accumulation of land under one capital source definitely contravenes the spirit of the Lands Protection Act.

There is a central phrase in the Act, “steadfast stewardship”. Some may think this is referring only to land use practices; however in the context of the original intent it means maintaining a watchful eye and responsible policies so that land will be here and be protected not just for the few, but for the many, in the far-reaching future.

PEI Lands Protection Act: The Spirit and the Letter

The report of the 2018 Cooper Institute Social Justice Symposium features presentations by NFU members Reg Phelan, Edith Ling and Doug Campbell, as well as Gary Schneider. The full report follows, or you can download it as a pdf: Lands Symposium Report 2018.

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The objectives of the symposium were to:

  • examine the meaning and significance of the spirit and letter of a legislation,
  • review the history of the “Voices for the Land”,
  • identify why and how the Lands Protection Act has been (and is being) misinterpreted to serve a few interests,
  • discover some of the loopholes in the Lands Protection Act, and
  • identify practical and doable community action to strengthen the Lands Protection Act.

Continue reading

Loopholes in the Lands Protection Act

Debbie Theurekauf (Cooper Institute), with Edith Ling, Reg Phelan and Doug Campbell of the NFU

Editorial by Douglas Campbell, published in the Charlottetown Guardian,

March 17, 2018

It is a matter of days since the National Farmers Union (NFU) participated with over 65 Islanders in a symposium on the Lands Protection Act: The Spirit and the Letter. Loopholes in the Act were high on the list of participants’ concerns about the implementation of the Act. This week, veteran, volunteer land-acquisition researchers advised the National Farmers Union of a specific case in Kings County which should shock any Islander. Continue reading