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EDITORIAL: Protecting the land

Greg Donald, president of the P.E.I. Potato Board, says provisions of the Lands Protection Act that restrict foreign purchases of land are not being enforced.
Greg Donald, president of the P.E.I. Potato Board, says provisions of the Lands Protection Act that restrict foreign purchases of land are not being enforced. - Stu Neatby

Island farmers are tired of watching the Lands Protection Act weakened, one acre at a time.

The chorus is growing stronger for the provincial government to close loopholes in the Lands Protection Act (LPA) and force adherence to both the letter and intent of the landmark legislation. The latest call to action comes from the general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board who expressed concerns that agricultural land sales in P.E.I. are increasingly not adhering to regulations.

Greg Donald has good reason for concern. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of potato farms in P.E.I. was in free-fall - declining from 460 to 186. In the same 10-year span, acreage harvested decreased from 112,000 to 83,200. Cavendish Farms says P.E.I. growers can no longer meet its demands – a key reason for the closure of its O’Leary fresh produce packaging plant this year.

RELATED: Group says P.E.I.’s Lands Protection Act is being abused and loopholes ‘must be closed’

Farmers are increasingly concerned about unethical land real estate practices. Often, sales of farmland are not being advertised on the Island, which prevent local farmers from increasing their land holdings. One farmer, who had been renting land, says that land was sold without his knowledge because it wasn’t advertised. Advertisement of land sales, now a guideline, must become a regulation.

Under the Lands Protection Act, non-residents of Prince Edward Island must have permission of cabinet in order to own more than five acres of land. The act also limits individuals to land holdings of 1,000 acres and corporations to 3,000 acres of land.

Some realtors are circumventing residency requirements of the act. Mr. Donald tells stories of residents buying land, then renting to a non-resident until that person meets the residency requirements, which are now just 12 months. Then they would sell them the land.

P.E.I. desperately needs a land banking system which would allow retiring farmers to get a fair price for their land while allowing Island farmers to buy land at a cost they can afford.

These are serious concerns and were the focal point of a symposium this spring that focused on land protection. It resulted in the formation of a new umbrella group - the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Lands. The group is looking at solutions to ensure the LPA is strengthened and to halt the accumulation of land by corporate interests. Those concerns should be a priority of government, yet there is a general lack of political will to take action.

Young farmers need reasonable and affordable access to farmland but increased pressure by non-resident owners is making that farmland too expensive. Other roadblocks include finding information about land acquisitions, which requires lengthy searches through archives and databanks.

Land ownership transcends all sectors of the province. For example, the five-acre allowance has resulted in non-resident ownership of an estimated 50 per cent of P.E.I.’s coast line today. The government should be held accountable for every acre of farmland taken out of food production because once it’s gone, there is no returning it.

Islanders have long been sensitive about land ownership – dating back to absentee landlords from British colonial times. It’s time for the province and opposition parties to take a history lesson, close loopholes and tighten up the administration of the LPA - beginning this November during the fall sitting of the P.E.I. legislature.

Island farmers are tired of watching the Lands Protection Act weakened, one acre at a time.

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