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Province gave $50,000 to PC leadership candidate for land bank study

Kevin Arsenault delivers a speech during his Progressive Conservative leadership run on Feb. 9, 2019. The province paid Arsenault $50,000 to produce a report on the establishment of a land bank last July. Stu Neatby/THE GUARDIAN
Kevin Arsenault delivers a speech during his Progressive Conservative leadership run on Feb. 9, 2019. The province paid Arsenault $50,000 to produce a report on the establishment of a land bank last July. Stu Neatby/THE GUARDIAN - Saltwire

After being commissioned to produce a report on land banking, a former Progressive Conservative leadership says he's disappointed the province is unwilling to make it public.

In July of 2019, the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy commissioned Kevin Arsenault to produce a study on the establishment of a land bank. The province paid $50,000 for the study, which was submitted in December.

Arsenault ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party one year ago, losing to Dennis King by 1,410 votes. He was the only unsuccessful leadership candidate, out of four others, to have since accepted a contract with the PC government.

Arsenault, a gardener, has been an outspoken critic of agricultural issues for a number of years on his personal blog. In an interview, he said he initially understood the land bank study would be made public upon completion.

"I understand now from speaking with some people that there seems to be a change in attitude,” Arsenault said.

"I was given assurance from the outset that it would be made public. I wrote it with that in mind."

Although the subject matter of the report dealt with agricultural issues, the department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy is responsible for land purchases, Arsenault said. Arsenault said the 130-page report included policy recommendations on both the establishment of a land bank and the restoration of soil health.

Arsenault suggested the focus on soil health may have gone outside of the scope desired by Steven Myers, the transportation minister.

"I'm very proud of it. I was able to integrate in a policy framework the two main concerns of land and soil,” Arsenault said.

“In other words, I built into all the recommendations the priority policy objective of soil health restoration. And that is not a mandate that's involving the department of transportation."

A 20-year study involving research from Agriculture and Agri-food Canada found a significant overall decline in soil health throughout P.E.I.

The PC election platform included a pledge to spend $1 million on establishing a land bank to buy and lease farmland to Island farmers.

The department confirmed to The Guardian that Arsenault had been contracted to produce a report but did not provide a copy of the study by deadline.

“We anticipate using Mr. Arsenault's research as part of our broader plans for a provincial land bank. His contract is now complete,” read an emailed statement from the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy.

The contract between the department and Arsenault, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, prohibits Arsenault from disclosing the specifics of the report without the consent of the department. The contract was initially for a three-month period with a maximum compensation of $40,000. Arsenault said the timeline was later extended, and the compensation was increased to $50,000.

An initial proposal for the study did not mention examining soil organic matter.

Before the last election, posts on Arsenault’s personal blog often accused the former Liberal government of corruption. In recent months, Arsenault’s lengthy posts have been increasingly critical of members of King’s cabinet.

A post from Jan. 27, 2020, bore the headline "do they know the danger they’re in?" The headline appeared above a photoshopped image of what appears to be a kodiak bear stalking both Economic Development Minister Matthew MacKay and his deputy minister, Erin McGrath-Gaudet.

The post alleged staff of MacKay’s department have improperly delayed or withheld documents that are subject to a Freedom of Information request. The documents pertain to a dismissed lawsuit related to the failed e-gaming initiative that occurred during the Ghiz government from 2009-2012.

Stu.neatby@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/stu_neatby

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