Letters to the Editor

Land Transactions: Government must exercise its people-given authority

By Douglas Campbell, Published in the Charlottetown Guardian, September 18, 2019

The National Farmers Union (NFU), like many other Islanders is still in shock after seeing the Irving family name on yet another land transfer. Rebecca Irving, the young daughter of Mary Jean Irving was able to put more PEI land under the Irving name. No one would dare suggest that Ms Irving’s newly crafted corporation, Red Fox Acres, is connected to Irving corporate empire.

In PEI, people have become accustomed to silence about how the Irving family has gained such wide ranging control. Some people are even afraid to speak out. That is understandable. However what is not understandable and very disheartening to watch is the apparent powerlessness of the PEI Government to exercise its authority in the face of corporate power.

The NFU has emphasized the need to place emphasis on enforcing the “protection” aspect of the Lands Protection Act, i.e, its spirit & intent. The loopholes in the Act have served the interests of the Irvings and others in the corporate sector. We have also warned about the lack of transparency in the MacLauchlan government’s Business Corporation Act. This act received unanimous support from all MLAs in June, 2018).

It is significant that when the Irving corporations, in their varied combinations, were no longer allowed to use the Lands Protection Act loophole, they found an open door in some provisions of the Business Corporation Act. The 2,200 acres to which they wanted titled ownership suddenly became the property of a newly formed corporation. Then an Irving family member, under the Business Corporation Act, was able to buy this new corporation and its assets aka, the 2,200 acres. All legal, they say.

Governments of the past did not display a simple deficiency of political will to protect the resources and life sources of PEI. Rather what they have displayed is a distorted political will to openly serve the interests of corporations. Do they think that the people do not see this? It is common to hear people say that it is corporations which run PEI, not government.

It is our belief any government which lurks behind the veil of powerlessness is unworthy to govern. This is an opportunity for a new government to take a different path to protect the Island, its land/water and its people. Our message to the current PEI Government is that you have the authority to make legislation. Now use it. You have the authority to replace any legislation or articles of legislation to protect the interests of Islanders. Now do it. You have the authority to declare null and void the latest Irving acquisition (and maybe some former ones). Now do it.

The NFU would like to see the Honourable Bloyce Thompson take a stronger stand against the latest Irving acquisition. He is not only minister responsible for agriculture and lands but also as Attorney General is the overseer of all legislation. Minister Thompson must be seen to take control of the situation. The same goes for Premier King, who in the fever of the election campaign vowed to make open and transparent the workings of the Business Corporation Act and its Regulations. Open and transparent government was his pledge to Island voters. We are still waiting to see the openness and transparency.


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

By Douglas Campbell and Edith Ling, April 15, 2019

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

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?

In recent years the National Farmers Union has become increasingly concerned about the large amount of farmland being gobbled up by corporations, off-shore investors, etc.   Much of this is being done by circumventing the Act  by forming multiple corporations within a family.  The Government has turned a blind eye to these goings on, even though the Act gives the Minister of Communities, Land and Environment the right to deem such multiple  corporations to be one corporation.  It is very disappointing to see a good Act being abused and violated.  The  original purpose and intent of the Lands Protection  Act is so commendable.   Even more concerning is  hearing  a Charlottetown lawyer say that his firm has helped purchasers to “get around ” the  Act.

To tell it like it is, one has to say that land grabbing is alive and well in P. E. I. Why are folks from all over the world so anxious to own land in P. E. I.?  The answer is simple  –   it is a great place to park money  and speculate on its increase.  You may say, well, what is the difference between who owns the land as long as it is being farmed?  There is a huge difference.  Farmers have no security in renting or leasing land from absentee owners.  They could be told at any time that the land is no longer available.  Farmers need to have the security of holding ownership of their land (or of renting from a public land banking system)  and the privilege  of being  good stewards of the land in their care.

Over and over again we have seen the loopholes being used to circumvent the Lands Protection Act.   Within the past week,  applications from three Irving-owned companies have been made to IRAC for the purchase of over 2200 acres of land in North Bedeque and surrounding areas.   If the Executive Council approves these applications, it shows a blatant disregard for the Act  and a slap in the face for the individual farmers who want  to purchase these parcels.


Stop the Attack on Island Farmland

BY EDITH LING

GUEST OPINION

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.).

David Weale is totally correct in stating that it is high time that more Islanders wake up and learn what is being allowed to go on with respect to P.E.I. farm land. Members of the National Farmers Union (NFU) are aware of what is happening and for years have been bringing these concerns to the governments of the day. In fact, it was the NFU that was instrumental in having the Lands Protection Act (LPA) passed in our provincial legislature.

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

The Fibre of Rural Canada

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

Douglas Campbell

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

Douglas Campbell

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

Douglas Campbell

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

Doug Campbell

October 25, 2017

https://nfu-pei.ca/2017/10/25/respecting-the-spirit-and-intent-of-the-lands-protection-act


Holding Ponds and Protecting PEI Water

Edith Ling

May 27, 2017

https://nfu-pei.ca/2017/05/17/holding-ponds-protecting-pei-water/ ‎Edit


Proposed CFIA Regulations Threaten Small-Scale Producers

Doug Campbell

April 17, 2017

https://nfu-pei.ca/2017/04/18/proposed-cfia-re…-scale-producers/


Spirit of the Lands Protection Act is Being Violated

Doug Campbell

March 29, 2017

https://nfu-pei.ca/2017/03/29/spirit-of-lands-protection-act-is-being-violated/


Family Farmers in Peril Without a Strategy

Doug Campbell

February 4, 2017

https://nfu-pei.ca/2017/02/08/family-farms-in-…without-strategy/


NFU Concerned about Impact of School Closures in Rural PEI

Doug Campbell

February 22, 2017

https://nfu-pei.ca/2017/02/22/274/


Family Farm More Important Than Ever

Doug Campbell

https://nfu-pei.ca/2017/02/09/family-farm-more…ortant-than-ever/