BY KEVIN ARSENAULT
Minister of Communities, Land and Environment Richard Brown has asked IRAC to review non-resident and corporate land holdings in P.E.I.
What an utter waste of time and money. No one is suggesting rules are being broken. The problem is that government is allowing the “spirit and intent” of the Lands Protection Act to be ignored as both non-residents and corporations find creative ways to purchase more land than the Act ever intended them to acquire, without “technically” breaking any rules.
Minister Brown heard first-hand testimony at the National Farmers Union’s April 3rd district convention that Vanco Farms has amassed land holdings in Eastern P.E.I. likely exceeding 20,000 acres without breaking any rules; apparently, by purchasing land under different names and/or separate corporations. This is obvious to local residents as they drive past countless farms and fields displaying “Vanco Farms” signs. Similar tactics are suspected with Cavendish Farms.
Non-residents are using different methods. A recent Guardian article (March 17) by NFU District Director, Douglas Campbell, explained how Yongzhang Xia, a resident of Hebei, China, was first denied purchase of a 75-acre parcel of land as an individual, then as a director of a corporation, but then acquired the land with signatures from 14 other individuals (all non-residents from Hebei, China).
When asked at the NFU convention whether that 75-acre parcel had been divided up into 15, separate 5-acre parcels, Brown said he expected it had been. It wasn’t. Government issued a single deed. This is one loophole that could easily be plugged by simply forbidding the sale of larger land parcels to groups of non-residents divided into 5 acres portions (on paper) going to each individual.
When CBC reporter Sally Pitt asked Minister Brown whether he believes the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) owns more than 3,000 acres he said, “.... he's been told these groups are well within the land ownership limits, and he expects the IRAC review will confirm that.” Of course, it will.
But will IRAC’s review investigate the cumulative land holdings of the many corporate entities affiliated with GEBIS, including the Moonlight International Foundation Inc., a non-profit organization owning at least 664 acres of land near the monastery? And what exactly does a non-profit organization that hasn’t even updated its website in over two years need with 664 acres of land anyway?
This announced land review is a text-book case of government kicking the can down the road. Months will pass, a delayed report will eventually be released, and headlines will splash across Island media for a day or two announcing what we already know: “IRAC confirms rules being followed.”
What Minister Brown needs to announce are public consultations, one in each county, with the express purpose of coming up with amendments to the Lands Protection Act and Regulations to close loopholes and ensure the spirit and intent of the legislation regarding land limits is honoured. We urgently need remedies, not a disingenuous delay tactic. And there are solutions; unfortunately, the Liberal government apparently lacks the political will to act.
- Kevin J. Arsenault lives in Ft. Augustus and obtained his PhD in ethics from McGill University