Where Your Money Goes Matters
By Douglas Campbell, By Douglas Campbell, published in the Charlottetown guardian, May 7, 2020
The National Farmers Union (NFU) and most Islanders were relieved when the federal and provincial governments took quick action to address COVID-19. The measures put in place helped curb the spread of the virus and saved many lives here in PEI and in other provinces and territories. The government spokespersons showed caring in addressing sincere messages to the people who are grieving the deaths of family members and friends.We are impressed by the speed and apparent efficiency with which the decision-makers set up emergency funds.
They started with the most obvious vulnerable people, the ones who lost current jobs or their seasonal employment due to lock downs. The governments were also swift to recognize and respond to the many categories of the less noticed people, those who always fall through the cracks for whatever reason.
As politicians’ attention turned to emergency funds for business, people began to watch more carefully. Many people remember the shocking payouts to big business during the 2008 recession, while ordinary people went bankrupt. However in this pandemic scene, all seemed to be going well as specific small and medium business sectors were offered some support to keep their doors open and/or to tide them over until the COVID-19 virus would weaken and disappear.
However, a lot of red flags went up when the PEI Minister of Agriculture announced a $4.7 million relief fund which seems to be destined for the Irvings. Early in the pandemic, the corporation declared that they had a surplus of potatoes. The news media reported that Cavendish Farms advised the P.E.I. potato producers under contract to supply the company with potatoes to “sell to other markets if they can”. And this was said in the midst of closing borders. It was at best unreasonable, maybe even cruel. The tune seems to have changed when the corporation found that they could get public money. Now it appears that the processor plans to take the potatoes from the growers and produce marketable french fries.
When the NFU asked questions about the $4.7 million, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture advised us that the assistance is not going directly to individual farmers but to the “industry”, namely Cavendish Farms. He insisted that farmers will be assisted indirectly because the Irving enterprise will be “able” to pay farmers for their potatoes that otherwise might have been dumped. The Irvings share of the public money will be paid for transporting and storing the processed product.
In our conversations with the authorities we hear a lot of big talk about the “glut” in the market and the damaged “supply chain”. In the time of a pandemic it gives us yet another indication of the weakness and wrongheadedness of the industrial model of food production and processing. Gluts and faulty supply chains are inevitable when any disaster can cause interdependent systems such as transportation and even consumer demands to break down. And to be realistic: there will be other crises in the future. The fragility and lack of resilience of the so-called robust industrial model is evident in times of disaster. This is clear when huge operations control farming and the land, and when highly centralized processing is the norm. There is a supply chain problem when the virus hits Cargills, the giants who control beef in Canada. There is a beef shortage in stores. As well when the Olymel plant in Quebec has to shut down, Atlantic producers may have to put down their hogs. Pork could become a luxury food.
And so it is with Cavendish Farms, restaurants and fast food places are closed because of the virus. The french fry market shrinks. There is a temporary”glut”. The processing company will likely have extra transportation and storage costs. That is some of the risk of doing this kind of industrial business. That’s part of their responsibility. Why should tax payers’ money go toward the ordinary operational expenses of Cavendish Farms? The Irving billionaire behind Cavendish Farms might have to absorb a few percentage points decrease in profits during this time of crisis. This is their risk.
In reality, farmers typically carry most of the risk. The NFU would be happier if the PEI Government would bring growers more directly into a discussion of the best way to spend $4.7 million potato money. The processor has the unbridled freedom to decide whose potatoes to receive, or not. The processor also has the long-standing, unscrutinized privilege of judging a certain percentage of each delivery “unfit” for processing. Farmers need to be able to claim a good portion of the public emergency fund to cover their actual losses.
The National Farmers Union expects the Department of Agriculture to provide protection for farmers. The NFU urges the Minister to be transparent about all negotiations relating to the dispersal of nearly five million dollars. All Islanders expect this.
Douglas Campbell lives on his farm in Southwest Lot 16 and is District Director of the National Farmers Union
Coronavirus: Another Level of Anxiety for Farmers
By Douglas Campbell, published in the Charlottetown guardian April 18, 2020
The National Farmers Union (NFU) adds its concerned voice about COVID-19 to that of many people in PEI, in Canada, and the whole world. We have never experienced a global health threat as serious as this one. Everyone is affected. Our health and our lives are at risk. For many of us our livelihoods are at risk. The fear and anxieties which accompany any major disaster are at a high level.
Just as in any widespread tragedy, not all people are affected to the same degree. Not all people have the same level of angst. Those who are usually on the lower economic and social rungs in our community live in a constant state of alarm and fear for their survival.
It has been encouraging to see the Federal Government step up and lessen the immediate suffering of those who have lost their jobs due to the shut-downs across the country. Many are relieved by the emergency funds governments have made available for the next few months. However, there will be long-term consequences which everyday people will feel for years to come. When you live on the margins, any setback can mean a permanent shift in our individual lives and those of our families. COVID-19 amplifies our on-going vulnerabilities, our fear and anxiety.
Not many people are talking about the specific effects of the pandemic on farmers. Nor are they asking why this is adding one more layer of worry to the ongoing stress on farmers. We are a sector for which tension and mental stress is a permanent feature. It was suddenly fashionable early this year for government, their related organizations, and the media to bring to light that farmers’ stress and depression are widespread. Yet they all seem to be missing the story. They are not examining why more and more farmers have been seeking mental health treatment.
The “big picture” source of farmers’ unease is that they are trying to produce food within an impossible model. Farmers are merely cogs in the wheels of an industrial agricultural system. They create wealth for the few at the top and are barely surviving themselves, receiving low prices for their product. Most farmers regard land and water as a trust for generations to come. The industrialists and their mouthpieces in the farm community see land and water as resources to be exploited. They see these life sources merely as means to produce wealth in the short term at whatever cost.
A resulting source of anxiety is the concrete reality that family farms will disappear unless they are forced under the umbrella of the industrial sector, the processors and retailer. Farmers are often under pressure to use farm practices which they know are destructive. In PEI alone thousands of farm families have been pushed off the land. Those who remain feel that it’s just matter of time before a larger operation will buy them out; the level of impossible debt makes this inevitable. So, what happens to farmers who have given their lives to this way of life and the find that they can no longer continue?
So, what happens when we add to this the grief and fear of COVID-19 for ourselves and our families? Farmers also have to self- isolate to prevent the spread of the virus. It will soon be cultivation and planting time. Access to input suppliers is more difficult. Add to that the news that there is a glut in the french-fry market and in dairy. Farmers have to find new markets or they have to destroy product as some dairy farmers are required to do in Ontario and elsewhere.
Then there is the economic crisis. In earlier recessions when the market crashed, many investors turned to land grabbing. They saw land as a safe area for long-term investment. We may see a drive to buy up land while there is no one on watch.
The NFU urges people to listen to the health requirements so that we can stop the virus COVID-19: stay home; wash your hands many times during the day; keep a distance of 2 metres apart; and stay well,
As well, the National Farmers Union challenges all Islanders to think of ways to engage government and others. We need to stop the viral threat of the industrial model of agriculture to farmers and to the land. Let’s stop saying, “when we get back to normal…” The normal is pretty disastrous for farmers and the land. We can do better than the “normal”. Let’s find new ways together!
Douglas Campbell lives on his farm in Southwest Lot 16 and is District Director of the National Farmers Union
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
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