Who is Afraid of the Irvings?
By Douglas Campbell, July 2019
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has been waiting, not always patiently, to hear the newly elected Progressive Conservative Government distancing itself from corporate sector control. We heard some brave language during the election campaign and even in the Speech from the Throne. The NFU and many other Islanders understood those statements to mean that the time of the Irving’s free-rein on land control is over. We are hopeful that this government will act on their intentions and promises. It will make a big change when all MLAs have the opportunity to receive orientation on the Lands Protection Act especially if that is designed by IRAC which is the group which has the deepest knowledge of the Act.
We hear repeated the tiresome and exasperating expression. “But the Irvings have contributed so much to the PEI economy”. The NFU dares to wonder about this belief. There are of course signs of a growth in GDP and that is for many reasons. However GDP is a very narrow and misleading measurement of how well we are doing. For sure the Irvings are doing well for themselves. Farmers not so well. And the land is paying the price.
The NFU contends that fear is behind every politicians’ veiled protection of the Irving interests. The corporation’s not-so-veiled threats nourish this fear. Elected officials seem to believe that if PEI doesn’t fall in line, the Irvings will take their business elsewhere.
This threat, having been expressed so many times in our history, is part of our cultural baggage and does not even require repeating to take its effect. Interestingly, the threat was the backdrop of the formulation of the Lands Protection Act in 1982 as the Irvings had been making it clear that they wanted and expected more PEI land. The restriction to 3000 acres meant that the corporation at that time was even required to divest of thousands of acres.
In 1999, it was deemed that Irvings owned or controlled 5,600 acres of land on P.E.I. The provincial cabinet at that time set a schedule for divestment of the company’s holdings to bring it into compliance with the Lands Protection Act. The government of the day had the courage to ignore threats. Then in 2008, the government put before the courts the acreage of Island Holdings, a major Irving-owned corporation. Island Holdings was found in violation of the Lands Protection Act,was fined and ordered to divest.
Now, almost 20 years into the 21st century, people are seeing clearly that PEI lands need protection like never before. Now is a time to take brave new steps. Politicians need to step up and establish and uphold the true spirit and intent of the Lands Protection Act. The intention of the Act was, and still is, to maintain farm land in the control of Island farm families. This is far beyond mere political declarations. This means changing the whole game plan of how agriculture is organized in PEI. It means reclaiming the land. It means taking already destroyed land (and there is a lot of it) out of production. It means making good land available for family-controlled production. It means breaking with a belief that corporate-minded law firms are the protectors of the land.
The National Farmers Union message to the current Government, including all MLAs is: “You are the persons whom Islanders elected to take on your foremost and crucial responsibility to ensure the protection of PEI lands. There is no time or place for fear. Jelly fish belong in the sea; not in the legislature or around the Cabinet table. Current and future generations will judge you on how well you have managed those lands that are under your care”.
Lands Transfers – It’s All Political
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.
The whole story must be told about the strengths of Canada’s supply management system. Read Douglas Campbell’s op-ed here.
Understanding the Spirit of the Lands Protection Act
Lands Protection Act seems powerless to stop rapid corporate, non-Islander land grab so obvious in the rural community
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.
Read the whole letter here.
Independent Review of Land Holdings and Transfers Needed
May 3, 2017
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).
Read the full letter here.
Loopholes in the Lands Protection Act
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.
Read Doug’s full letter here.
A Matter of Trust
December 19, 2017- Charlottetown Guardian
Farm and Food Care P.E.I. is officially launched. The National Farmers Union (NFU) had been following this initiative long before the Prince Edward Island Federation of Agriculture (PEIFA), announced in summer, 2017 that it was hiring a co-ordinator for the then-proposed program in P.E.I. From the beginning the NFU suspected what interests are being served by Farm and Food Care.
The NFU has reason to be concerned about the power of big agro-industry in this program. We also have wondered why the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries was so eager to establish in P.E.I. a branch of Farm and Food Care, now known as the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI). So let’s connect a few of the dots.
First of all, for an explanation of the Department’s persistent fervour to set up Farm and Food Care in P.E.I., it is significant that the current Deputy Minister of Agriculture, John Jamieson, former executive director of the PEIFA, served on the Board of Farm and Food Care Canada. Add to this the fact that the Department turned its program over to the PEIFA, an organization which has displayed its pro-government, pro-industrial interest. This does not look good for government transparency.
Secondly, the NFU is particularly concerned about how much influence major agro-business has over the P.E.I. program. We know that Canadian Centre for Food Integrity is affiliated with its U.S. counterpart. The American Centre for Food Integrity gives full display to the financial contributions and involvement of industry giants such as Monsanto, McDonald’s and ConAgra Foods. The Canadian organization, CCFI, now part of the P.E.I. agriculture scene, has its own big names. Donors to the Farm & Food Care Canada include a long list of agri-business trade associations and companies, including Maple Leaf Foods, Burnbrae Farms (Canada’s largest egg company) and Cargill.
The NFU’s central concern is how ‘public trust,’ the main pillar of the Canadian Centre of Food Integrity, became identified as a major issue for P.E.I. food production. More importantly we wonder about the meaning of public trust in P.E.I. The federal department (Agriculture and Agrifood Canada) also presents public trust as a concern, which it is willing to fund through the Canadian Agriculture Partnership. If public trust is the issue, these two governments must be recognizing some level of mistrust.
The NFU observed that public trust is in question only when numbers in the Island community do not trust the system and practices of production and distribution. The P.E.I. community over the years has been on the alert about any agriculture that is designed for any, or all of the following: stimulating food production as a huge profit-maker for the corporate sector and to enhance the province’s revenue; making a few well-connected farmers rich (temporarily); disparaging the people’s attempts to prioritize the protection of land, air and water; inventing cosmetic improvement to hide the real ecological damage of industrial farming.
The proponents of Farm and Food Care seem to feel that the general public is lacking in knowledge about farming and food. The Farm and Food Care promoters seem to ignore the high level of awareness of Islanders about how land, water, and the whole ecosystem is being threatened by the major players in the industry. This is in fact deep-seated knowledge about the realities of how food is produced and how safe, or unsafe, the production is for the ecosystem, and especially for eaters.
No amount of glossy communications, forums, or farm visits will alleviate the community’s concerns/fear about what is in our food, and how the land and water are being mined and drained in the production processes.
The National Farmers Union sees the development of Farm and Food Care P.E.I. as another sign of the huge disconnect between the majority of P.E.I. people and Government of P.E.I. This opens up again the question of who has the attentive ear of government.
Respecting the Spirit and Intent of the PEI Lands Protection Act
October 25, 2017
Holding Ponds and Protecting PEI Water
May 27, 2017