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.

Loopholes Unlimited

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? Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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). Continue reading