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P.E.I. land holding agreements being abused by corporation, committee hears

Reg Phelan, left, and Doug Campbell of the National Farmer’s Union of P.E.I. told a standing committee Thursday they are concerned about the large parcels of P.E.I. land being purchased by big, off-Island companies and entities. (Teresa Wright/ The Guardian)
Reg Phelan, left, and Doug Campbell of the National Farmer’s Union of P.E.I. (Teresa Wright/ The Guardian)

Officials with Cavendish Farms, the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute and Vanco Farms to appear before committee to answer to land holding concerns

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - P.E.I.’s land ownership limits are being abused by large, richly funded, outside corporations and organizations thanks to loopholes in the Island’s lands protection laws.

This was the assertion put forward Thursday by representatives of the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) in P.E.I. to the Standing Committee on Communities, Land and Environment.

Doug Campbell and Reg Phelan say a few big corporations are buying up large amounts of P.E.I. farmland, despite the fact P.E.I. has caps on the amount of land any one individual or company can own.

“Many other Islanders share our alarm about land transferals,” said Campbell, district director of the NFU in P.E.I.

“What is upsetting for us, and for many other aware community groups, is the lack of transparency about how ownership and control of farmland can take place under the radar.”

Campbell and Phelan named three entities in particular they allege are using loopholes to own or control more land than is permitted under P.E.I.’s land ownership laws – Irving-owned Cavendish Farms, the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute (GEBIS) and Vanco Farms.

As a result of their concerns, officials from these three entities are being called to testify before the standing committee about their land holdings in P.E.I.

Phelan says people living in the rural areas of P.E.I. can plainly see that although farms are being purchased under the names of other individuals or corporations, signage on buildings and equipment clearly show the Vanco logo. In eastern P.E.I., more and more farmland is being purchased by individuals who are affiliated with GEBIS while Cavendish Farms has long been purchasing land in P.E.I. under affiliated corporate identities, Campbell and Phelan said.

This phenomenon has caused farmland to become unaffordable for Islanders looking to add to their acreage or get into the industry due to the high amounts these deep-pocketed entities are paying for Island land.

“It’s making it very difficult for young farmers to be able to continue farming or for others to be able to do it because they just can’t compete with that type of price and that type of situation, and that’s why we’re so concerned about it,” Phelan said.

Last week, the minister responsible for land and municipalities, Robert Mitchell, appeared before the same standing committee and was questioned on the similar land ownership concerns, including about the fact some of this farmland is being purchased and taken out of production.

He said government is aware of the concerns and is monitoring the situation, but assured the committee the province’s Lands Protection Act is being followed.

But while the letter of law may be being followed, the spirit of the law is not, Campbell said.

“Accountants and lawyers are a big part of what the problem is here,” he said.

“There are certain accountants and certain lawyers that are willing to work the law to the limit.”

They urged the province to close loopholes in the legislation and to give the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission a stronger mandate to investigate the source of investor capital of prospective off-Island land purchasers.

Campbell further challenged two cabinet ministers who sit on the committee, Economic Development Minister Heath MacDonald and Rural and Regional Development Minister Pat Murphy, to better inform themselves about the Lands Protection Act to ensure they understand the nuances land purchase applications when they come to cabinet for approval.

“IRAC is telling us they can make the recommendation to cabinet, but it’s up to cabinet to decide whether or not to go forward. That’s where we’re saying cabinet needs to understand what the act is, what is means by spirit and intent,” Campbell said.

“You can’t pass it off on IRAC.”

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