By Douglas Campbell
The National Farmers Union (NFU) is praising the Three Rivers Municipal Council for its care in dealing with issues relating to the Buddhist communities in the region. The Council voted to refuse a permit to Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (Buddhist Nuns) for the building of a residence in Brudenell, eventually to be expanded to hold over 1000 nuns. It was clear that the center of concern for many participants in the Council meeting was greater than the building permit. There has been, however, a growing anxiety in the surrounding area and in other parts of PEI about what looks like unregulated land accumulation. The people at the Council meeting seemed to be intent on looking into what has the appearance of a hodge-podge of land acquisitions.
For people who may not be aware, the Lands Protection Act was put in place in 1982 by the then Progressive Conservative government of Angus MacLean. It was, and continues to be, a forward thinking piece of legislation with spirit and intent and laws to ensure that bonafide Islander residents retain the right to the ownership and use of their land. It was also to protect Island farmers from direct competition by processors. The act is entrenched in the Canadian Constitution. While Island land has always been a target of outside interests with deep pockets, the NFU believes the Act is more relevant than ever now as the world wide land grab escalates.
Yet on all levels, the current government to-date is following in the footsteps of previous governments in its weakness and unwillingness to enforce the spirit, intent, and even the letter of the Lands Protection Act. It seems the Government is powerless to “follow the money” or to enforce laws related to international money transactions, acquisitions, and investments within their jurisdiction.
In other parts of the Island, people watch with alarm at the ways that large corporations cluster together family members to come up with another “legitimate” farm corporation, each of which can own 3000 acres. They are masters at forming yet another corporation when the “need” arises. These corporate entities are brazenly breaking both the letter and the spirit of the Lands Protection Act which decrees that all such off-shoot corporations must be considered as one corporation.
The NFU wonders if the Buddhist presence in Southern Kings County might be following some of the patterns of other land ventures in various other parts of PEI. Thus far we know of a number of organizations under the heading of Buddhist. Some of the Buddhist organizations which come into the conversation in PEI are: Bliss and Wisdom; Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS), the monks with monasteries in Little Sands and Heatherdale; GEBIS Charlottetown, a non-profit organization (NGO) on Great George St.; Moon Light International Foundation; Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (GWBI), a monastery where nuns study and practice the teachings of Buddha, currently on the Uigg Rd, with extensive plans for Brudenell, There is also the Moonlight International Academy, a private boarding school in Little Sands, PEI for the teaching of Buddhism to teenagers and some preteens. There also is to be a large number of “followers” who fulfil various roles.
There seems to be an abundance of money for farmland and other real estate.The problem is with weak local governments which seem powerless to “follow the money” or to enforce laws related to money transactions, acquisitions, and investments within their jurisdiction. The long-time residents of Southern Kings, from the first arrivals of the monks, nuns and students, have given the Buddhists an ongoing warm welcome. People are accustomed to seeing them in their orange robes and with shaved heads and have known these new neighbours as peaceful and kind.
Where uneasiness entered the picture, however, was when people noticed that farmland and other real estate seemed to be changing hands small-holding-by-small-holding at a rapid rate. Much of this falls under the radar because there were private transactions between supposed representatives of the Buddhists and local property owners. There was a rumour that local farmers were offered inflated prices, sometimes in cash, for their land.
There are many unanswered questions which the PEI Government and IRAC must answer. The Municipality of Three Rivers should not have to be the enforcers of the Lands Protection Act. The NFU insists that the responsibility for overseeing the letter, spirit, and intent of Lands Protection Act belongs squarely on the shoulders of the PEI Government. It is past time to see action relating to land acquisition in Southern Kings.
Douglas Campbell lives on his family farm in Southwest Lot 16 and is District Director of the National Farmers Union