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.
The situation is as follows: around mid-2017, 75 acres of farmland came up for sale in Valleyfield, parcel #272336. A resident of Hebei, China, Yongzhang Xia, applied to the Island Regulatory Appeals Commission (IRAC) to purchase the land. The request was denied by Executive Council, whose authorization would have been required (EC2017-502).
A second request for the same land came from a corporation, Universal Cihang Ltd, Prince Edward Island, Canada, in which the name of Yongzhang Xia again appears, now as a shareholder. The request was also denied (EC2017-495). Both denials are dated August 22, 2017. The NFU thanks the Executive Council for denying these two applications.
The next phase of this story is very upsetting for the future of farmland in P.E.I. As most Islanders know, the Lands Protection Act allows non- residents to acquire up to five acres of land. No approval is required. It is ironic that while non-residents can easily take possession of five acres, resident Islanders can often afford only one acre for a building lot. We know the results of this five-acre allowance when we view the non-resident ownership of an estimated 50 per cent of our coast line. And many people have stories of how land for residential lots has been purchased by a group whose members conspire to take ownership of five acres each.
Now back to Valleyfield. In the fall of 2017, in order to take possession of the desired farmland, 15 non-residents, all of Hebei, China, came together to purchase the 75 acres of farmland, each one supposedly taking ownership of five acres.
This story brings out five major concerns for the National Farmers Union. The first is that this loophole in the Lands Protection Act must be closed immediately. The second is that given the difficulty of finding consolidated information about land acquisitions, we are anxious about what we will discover hidden from view. There is no transparency if we have to dig through archives and databanks to find out the truth.
The third is that farmland sought after by non-resident owners of untold wealth is rapidly becoming too expensive for ordinary farm families. The fourth is that farmers who have worked hard all their lives may welcome having a “good dollar” offered for their land. P.E.I. desperately needs a land banking system which would allow retiring farmers to get a good price for their land while allowing Island farmers to buy land at a cost they can afford.
The fifth was expressed by many participants in the symposium on the Lands Protection Act: there is no political will to tighten up the Act to protect P.E.I. land.
The NFU calls on Minister Richard Brown to step up and take ownership of his mandate to administer the Lands Protection Act. He and the rest of the cabinet are responsible for every scrap of land that goes out of the hands of Islanders. Minister Brown and the cabinet are to be held accountable for every acre of farmland that is taken out of food production. Once the land is gone, there is no returning it.
Governments can get away with allowing the weakening of the Lands Protection Act just simply by allowing the land to trickle away an acre at a time or a farm at a time. The more hidden this land drain is, the less people will trust governments to be caretakers of land, water and air. Maybe it is time that P.E.I. has a provincial election run on lands protection. Islanders are more attached to the land than government knows.
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