By Douglas Campbell, Director, NFU District One, Region One
The National Farmers Union, reflecting the concerns of many Islanders, is asking the P.E.I. government to investigate the corporate interests which are taking ownership of immense acreages of farm land.
The NFU presumes that the land takeovers to date do not violate the letter of the law. It is however clear the spirit of the Lands Protection Act is being seriously violated. The spirit of the Act was, and is, the prevention of massive land takeovers by any entity, corporate or individual, and by out-of-province interests.
By the letter of the law, from the beginning, no corporation could acquire ownership of more than 3,000 acres and individuals 1000 acres. With some tactics, those limits really have been changed. Given that non-arable land is excluded from the calculations of acreage allowed, the current definition of non-arable land favours an increase of as much as 1,200 acres for a corporation and 400 acres for an individual.
Non-arable land is that on which a temporary agricultural crop was not planted at any time in the immediately preceding four years. Ironically this could include blueberry and orchard lands. Considering the non-arable land factor, we could have a new set of land holding limits as 4,200 acres for a corporation and 1,400 acres for an individual.
Worse than the above, the most flagrant violation of the spirit of the act is the accumulation of land in the hands of single corporate entities. This is very difficult to bring to the light of day because the land is held in the names of different corporations presumably keeping the law by ensuring that no board member owns more that five per cent shares in any other land holding corporation with the maximum allowable acreage.
What the NFU, and the rest of the community, knows is the names of those who are the front people, but the questions are: What is the origin of the money? Who are the real investors? Besides the longtime locally grown, grasping corporations, we now have on the stage Dutch (Netherlandic), Chinese, and Taiwanese entities. In other words, Dutch, Chinese and Taiwanese money.
As in most parts of the world, P.E.I. is experiencing the plague of land grabbing. The lesson learned is that capitalists worldwide view land as a solid investment, promising future growth in their investment capital. Land is bought up everywhere for the expectation of an incredible increase in value over the years.
At the heart of all land grabbing is a source of investment capital. If the government is serious about its role in protecting P.E.I. land, there must be an investigation of who are the real investors.
Most Islanders know our land history: that for 100 years, our land was in the hands of absentee British land lords. Island farmers held a courageous and painful struggle to win back the land.
To quote the song, “Don’t sell PEI” by Father Andrew Macdonald: “No, No don’t sell P.E.I.; it’s our homeland, our heritage and we want to make it free . . . Shall we return to serfdom now or halt the invading pack?”
– Douglas Campbell, a dairy farmer in Southwest Lot 16, is District Director of the National Farmers Union.