A sale involving 504 acres of land outside of Three Rivers drew scrutiny from the Opposition Greens for the second day on Tuesday.
During question period, Green agriculture critic Michele Beaton raised questions about the June 9 approval of the sale of the 504 acres of land by cabinet.
An order in council approved the acquisition of the land from five individuals to the HopeTown Development Company Ltd., a holding company. The land was divided into 10 separate parcels.
Beaton raised the fact that three separate applications had been submitted to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) for purchase of the same land. Only one was approved.
"Why were there three separate applications for the same 10 parcels of land?" Beaton asked Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson.
Thompson said the 504 acres were originally purchased by an Island resident in 2017.
The resident then formed a landholding corporation, Thompson said.
The sale was approved by cabinet of the previous Liberal government, but two shareholders, who were not residents of P.E.I., later bought into the corporation.
“We denied the shareholders that were non-residents at the time in a retroactive application,” Thompson said.
“This is an example of the Lands Protection Act working, Mr. Speaker, and I'm happy to say that."
The Lands Protection Act requires land sales involving more than five acres to be approved by cabinet.
In an interview, Thompson confirmed that the HopeTown Development Company planned to use the land for a residential development related to Buddhist monasteries in the region.
Thompson confirmed three applications had been made to purchase the same 504 acres of land. Two individuals applied to become shareholders, and therefore owners, on Jan. 9, 2020, and Feb. 20, 2020. HopeTown Development Company applied for the purchase of the same land on Jan. 9.
In the end, cabinet denied a previous approval of the land sale for two shareholders of HopeTown but allowed only the Jan. 9 sale to go through for HopeTown Development. The two shareholder applications were rejected.
“It was a retroactive application where the two non-residents we felt were outside the realm of the Lands Protection Act," Thompson said.
"We approved the corporation, but we did not approve the new shareholders.”
One of the rejected shareholders is a resident of Niagara on the Lake, Ont., while the other is a resident of Taipei City, Taiwan.
The business corporate registry does not list directors or shareholders for HopeTown Development Company. The Island’s Business Corporations Act was amended last fall to require corporations registered in P.E.I. to disclose the names of directors and shareholders.
It is unclear if the company is affiliated with the Greater Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) or the Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (GWBI), the two main Buddhist organizations on P.E.I. Both monasteries have faced limited housing in the Kings County area, coupled with increasing international enrolment for their programming in recent years.
When asked why the shareholders and directors of the HopeTown Development Company were not listed on the province’s corporate registry, Thompson said he did not know.
"I'll have to find out," Thompson said.
Beaton said it is still unclear who are the current shareholders of HopeTown Development
She also said the three applications made at the same time raise questions.
"It feels like it was arranged for it to work," Beaton said.
"But because we can't see any of that, the lack of transparency around it has to lead you to question what went on."