By Douglas Campbell, District Director of the National Farmers Union
The National Farmers Union is shocked beyond belief that the Irving Corporation has found a way to access the 2,200 acres of prime Island farm land they coveted. It seems that the Irvings, by whatever corporate designation they choose, have worked hand in hand with their accomplices, to find a loophole to circumvent the PEI Lands Protection Act. This latest acquisition goes against the earlier recommendation of IRAC, and the decision of the PEI Government to deny the Irvings that specific land purchase.
This latest legal scheme is a bold announcement that the Irvings will stop at nothing to own the Island’s primary resource of land and indirectly water; and as such, control the potato industry in the province – to the determent of independent farmers and all Islanders.
This recent land transaction is, to date, their loudest public proclamation of their contempt of the spirit and intent of the 1982 Lands Protection Act that was put in place to enable Islanders to protect our land from corporate and foreign ownership, as well as, to ensure the livelihood of independent farmers.
Geoffrey Connolly, who is a Haslemere Farms representative (the newly formed corporation that obtained the land), is referenced by Stu Neatby in the Guardian of Monday, August 13 giving details of how the deal was done. The lawyer, a partner of the Charlottetown law firm Stewart McKelvey, indicates that the transaction was allowed due to a “loophole” in the Lands Protection Act. This is one of a number of loopholes in the Act about which the NFU has written and spoken at every opportunity. Lawyers and accountants have eagerly and profitably searched these out over the years. Previous governments have willingly turned a blind eye. Apparently the current government was caught unaware of this latest strategy by the Irving family.
This breach of the Act through the selling of a corporation, which holds the land assets, rather than a straight land transaction, puts the Island in a precarious position. If allowed to be finalized it further opens the Island to the world wide land grab that is making land a commodity in the power games of corporations and financial elites. This is far bigger than the Irving’s getting another 2,200 acres to add to their already “over the limits” Island land stock. If the Island government doesn’t act swiftly and with conviction to prevent this deal, the very future of the control of our land is at stake. We are in a deep crisis.
The Island government is not helpless. The government can do something in this instance. The agriculture minister, Bloyce Thompson, has the power to deem what a corporation is, and whether Haslemere Farms is an ‘interlocking” corporation connected with J.D Irving Limited. He has power to protect the very future of this province. The government can move to repeal Wade McLaughlin’s work of replacing the Companies Act with the Corporate Business Directory that allows corporate shareholders not to be named. They can move to tighten the Lands Protection Act so that its spirit and intent is honoured. Every elected member of the legislature needs to get immediately invested in the welfare of our primary resource. Prove you are as smart and diligent as those who are attempting to undermine the very fabric of this province. Prove that you do stand for Islanders and that you have a real commitment to honour the spirit and intent of the Lands Protection Act.
As Islanders, we all need to take a stand for our land and for the future of every Islander. The Irvings have once again snubbed their noses at the PEI Government. They also make it clear that they have little respect for the residents of Prince Edward Island. We must join together to make our voices heard about the future of PEI lands. How the land is owned, controlled, and used has a deep impact on all of us. We are facing serious consequences if we remain silent now. Future generations will judge us if we do not speak up against the current and ongoing violations of the spirit and intent of the Lands Protection Act.