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.

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

A Worldwide Phenomenon

Land Grabbing

Doug Campbell, Director, NFU District One, District One

This is the full text of the presentation Doug Campbell made at the February 23, 2019 Forum hosted by the Coalition for Protection of PEI Lands.

The land grab is a worldwide phenomenon that is greatly impacting the landscape of Prince Edward Island. The Island should be protected from this phenomenon by the 1982 Lands Protection Act; a forward-thinking-piece of legislation of spirit and intent, and law to ensure Islanders retain the right to the ownership and use of their land. The Lands Protection Act is constitutional. Islander residents have the right to determine the ownership of their limited primary resource. We have a right to guard its stewardship for present and future generations of Islanders.

Ownership and control of the Island land has been an ongoing saga since the British claim to ownership through defeat of the French in 1759. Of course, neither the French not the English concerned themselves with the ethics of taking the land of the Mi’Kmaq people. How ironic this point is when one thinks of where we stand today with the current land grab. Force has been replaced with underhanded tactics. Continue reading

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