BY DOUGLAS CAMPBELL
It is a matter of days since the National Farmers Union (NFU) participated with over 65 Islanders in a symposium on the Lands Protection Act: The Spirit and the Letter. Loopholes in the Act were high on the list of participants’ concerns about the implementation of the Act. This week, veteran, volunteer land-acquisition researchers advised the National Farmers Union of a specific case in Kings County which should shock any Islander.
The situation is as follows: around mid-2017, 75 acres of farmland came up for sale in Valleyfield, parcel #272336. A resident of Hebei, China, Yongzhang Xia, applied to the Island Regulatory Appeals Commission (IRAC) to purchase the land. The request was denied by Executive Council, whose authorization would have been required (EC2017-502).
A second request for the same land came from a corporation, Universal Cihang Ltd, Prince Edward Island, Canada, in which the name of Yongzhang Xia again appears, now as a shareholder. The request was also denied (EC2017-495). Both denials are dated August 22, 2017. The NFU thanks the Executive Council for denying these two applications.
The next phase of this story is very upsetting for the future of farmland in P.E.I. As most Islanders know, the Lands Protection Act allows non- residents to acquire up to five acres of land. No approval is required. It is ironic that while non-residents can easily take possession of five acres, resident Islanders can often afford only one acre for a building lot. We know the results of this five-acre allowance when we view the non-resident ownership of an estimated 50 per cent of our coast line. And many people have stories of how land for residential lots has been purchased by a group whose members conspire to take ownership of five acres each.
Now back to Valleyfield. In the fall of 2017, in order to take possession of the desired farmland, 15 non-residents, all of Hebei, China, came together to purchase the 75 acres of farmland, each one supposedly taking ownership of five acres.
This story brings out five major concerns for the National Farmers Union. The first is that this loophole in the Lands Protection Act must be closed immediately. The second is that given the difficulty of finding consolidated information about land acquisitions, we are anxious about what we will discover hidden from view. There is no transparency if we have to dig through archives and databanks to find out the truth.
The third is that farmland sought after by non-resident owners of untold wealth is rapidly becoming too expensive for ordinary farm families. The fourth is that farmers who have worked hard all their lives may welcome having a “good dollar” offered for their land. P.E.I. desperately needs a land banking system which would allow retiring farmers to get a good price for their land while allowing Island farmers to buy land at a cost they can afford.
The fifth was expressed by many participants in the symposium on the Lands Protection Act: there is no political will to tighten up the Act to protect P.E.I. land.
The NFU calls on Minister Richard Brown to step up and take ownership of his mandate to administer the Lands Protection Act. He and the rest of the cabinet are responsible for every scrap of land that goes out of the hands of Islanders. Minister Brown and the cabinet are to be held accountable for every acre of farmland that is taken out of food production. Once the land is gone, there is no returning it.
Governments can get away with allowing the weakening of the Lands Protection Act just simply by allowing the land to trickle away an acre at a time or a farm at a time. The more hidden this land drain is, the less people will trust governments to be caretakers of land, water and air. Maybe it is time that P.E.I. has a provincial election run on lands protection. Islanders are more attached to the land than government knows.
- Douglas Campbell, a dairy farmer in Southwest Lot 16, is District Director of the National Farmers Union