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EDITORIAL: Close the loop

A map of the 2,220-acre parcels of land previously owned by Brendel Farms Ltd. The family-owned farming corporation had attempted to sell the land to three Irving-owned companies, but the sale was rejected by cabinet. Haslemere, whose sole director is Rebecca Irving, is listed as the current owner of the land.
Source: IRAC
A map of the 2,220-acre parcels of land previously owned by Brendel Farms Ltd. The family-owned farming corporation had attempted to sell the land to three Irving-owned companies, but the sale was rejected by cabinet. Haslemere, whose sole director is Rebecca Irving, is listed as the current owner of the land. Source: IRAC - Contributed

That’s one way to get around the land sale approval process — buy the business that owns the land.

And that is what Islanders are reeling about with the sale of Haslemere Farms Ltd. and its 2,200 acres of land previously owned by Brendel Farms. Haslemere has since been renamed to Red Fox Acres Ltd., and also raising concerns is that its sole director is Rebecca Irving.

Brendel Farms and Rebecca Irving were in the news in March with the proposed sale of the same 2,200 acres of land. That time, the potential buyers were Long River Farms, Indian River Farms and Galloway Farms, and the presidents and directors of those farming businesses were Elizabeth Irving, Mary Jean Irving and Rebecca Irving.

The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission recommended against the sale, and the Liberal caucus rejected the deal in March out of concern of the concentration of land ownership by the Irvings.

In the end, a farming business that lists Rebecca Irving as its sole director got the 2,200 acres of prime potato land after all.

This has left a lot of Islanders scratching their heads about how this time is any different.

Well, Brendel sold a company with the land, not just the land.

Brendel created Haslemere Farms, transferred the 2,200 acres and then Haslemere was sold and Rebecca Irving became the sole director.

Geoffrey Connolly, a representative with Haslemere Farms and a partner with Stewart McKelvey, admits that a “loophole” was used in the Lands Protection Act based on how the legislation was written.

Unlike large land sales, corporation sales do not have to undergo IRAC or cabinet approval.

Even so, Connolly said the business is distinct from J.D. Irving and there is no connection between the two.

Without proof to the contrary, we have to take him at his word, even though we are dealing with members of the same family and the businesses share the same 60 Belvedere Ave. address and an interest in the potato industry.

If the two are distinct, then why not just create Red Fox Acres Ltd. in the first place and go through the normal approval process of land acquisition?

If they are not connected, then surely IRAC and cabinet would have realized this.

P.E.I.’s rookie MLA and agriculture minister Bloyce Thompson said in a statement that he’s asked IRAC to review the sale. Then he declined to be interviewed by The Guardian. The dairy farmer MLA who was expected to stand up for P.E.I. farms suddenly has nothing to say.

The provincial government needs to make closing this loophole a priority in the next sitting of the legislature.

The details of this corporate sale should have required a deeper investigation to guarantee that the spirit of the Lands Protection Act was being followed, and that there is a level playing field for everyone.

Simply rubber-stamping corporate sales with large land transactions cannot continue to be the norm.

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