For most, if not all, of his adult life David Weale has fought against foreign ownership and the consolidation of Island farm land. He has argued that the rural society supported by those farms is the foundation of what it is to be an Islander.
Back in the 1960s and 70s the big concern was the amount of farm land being bought by Americans and others, mainly Central Canadians. Farms with shore frontage were particularly vulnerable. Rules and regulations were brought in to limit the shore frontage, and the amount of land out-of-province purchasers could buy without the permission of the provincial cabinet.
The regulations didn’t change much. Cabinet ministers, both Tories and Liberals, quickly learned that for every buyer, there was an Islander willing to sell and the price was often more than the locals would pay. Also, those sellers had family and friends who were voters who might not quite understand why a sale was denied.
The sale to out-of-province purchasers was one issue, but there was also the sale of farms, by people who no longer wanted them, to other farmers. Whether they were growing potatoes, raising cattle or pigs, or producing milk, Island farmers were consolidating into larger, more efficient units.
Regardless of Mr. Weale’s rhapsodizing about the rural way of life, rural Islanders were voting with their feet. Many of the people who grew up in the country could hardly wait to move to town. Charlottetown and environs grew from some 25,000 people in 1970 to more than 65,000, mainly because of other Islanders, not because of the recent influx of immigrants.
The move to bigger and bigger farms was happening long before the Buddhist monks even knew where P.E.I. was, and at least 10 years before the Irvings bought the Seabrook Farms french fry plant in New Annan from C.M. McLean Ltd. in 1980.
It is not clear from his opinion pieces in The Guardian or in his posting on Facebook which David Weale fears more, the monks of the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society or Robert Irving and Cavendish Farms. But, he and his followers, clearly think both are a threat to what they think the Island should be.
Mr. Irving believes that if potato farmers could irrigate they could consistently produce the big potatoes he needs. He also said that if Island farms were larger they would be more efficient.
After presenting these views before the Legislature Mr. Weale accused him of wanting to be “the agricultural dictator of the Island”. He also wrote, “Robert Irving doesn’t like potato farmers, he uses them.”
Mr. Irving operates a plant, that in a good year will buy about 60 per cent of the Island potato crops. He then sells processed french fries to the fast food chains who want, long, flavourful french fries, that come from large, long potatoes.
This wasn’t a good year for a lot of potato growers, there wasn’t enough rain to get the potatoes the plant prefers, and there was too much rain when it was harvest time. This year Mr. Irving will likely have to either import potatoes or reduce production at New Annan. If he does either, or both, don’t be surprised to hear the nay-sayers accusing the Irvings of not supporting the Island potato industry.
Recently Mr. Weale shifted the blame for the ruination of the idyllic Island life from the Irvings and the monks, to his fellow Islanders.
In Thursday’s Guardian he wrote, “there is a passivity, and tolerance of abuse in this province that is disturbing.” Echoing Stephen Harper, the former prime minister, Mr. Weale also says he thinks “it is the result of having been a culture of dependency for so long.”
According to Mr. Weale, it’s the Islanders’ own passivity and dependency that allows Mr. Irving and monks in orange robes to run roughshod over them. What about the possibility that a lot of Islanders, including the farmers Mr. Weale so desperately wants to protect, don’t see it in such stark terms and are relatively content and not overly concerned about who owns the land.
- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: email@example.com