BY JOAN DIAMOND
If I told you that the Lands Protection Act (LPA) limits land ownership for persons to 1,000 and corporations to 3,000 acres in aggregate land holdings, you might be surprised to know that three large companies, J.D. Irving, Vanco and GEBIS, including their affiliates, own well in excess of those limits.
The exact amounts are elusive because the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) has made it quite impossible to search for ownership. You can only search by parcel number on their site. How is that for transparency?
Each company has found ways to circumvent the regulations and violate the spirit of the LPA in numerous ways. How can this be the case? Surely our government and these corporations understand that these regulations were made to protect Island land from excessive consolidation, and to keep it healthy, attainable and sustainable into the future for island family farms and forests.
That does not seem to be the case as evidenced by examining the IRAC website where land has been slowly, and consistently, gobbled up by transnationals. The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. land has formed to raise awareness about how industrial corporations have worked with government to find loopholes, and in doing so go against the intention, indeed the very spirit of the act.
The Lands Protection Act was born in 1982 to keep Island land ownership in the hands of farm families and foresters who were bona fide residents of P.E.I. At that time, the Act was the direct result of one corporation having applied to acquire 6,000 acres of land. As noted on the IRAC website, “some viewed this as giving pre-eminent control of the province’s agricultural industry to one company.”
I think we all know who that company was. At that time, Irving was forced to relinquish a portion of land in order to fall within the set limits. Since that time, Irvings and others have found loopholes that have allowed them to easily triple their allowable land holdings, all under the watchful eyes of government and IRAC, ironically giving control of our agricultural industry to a select few and selling other parcels to the highest bidder in questionable processes.
How do these corporations manage to purchase more than the allowed amount? According to the IRAC website, it happens in a variety of ways, including, but likely not limited to: using a variety of company names for different parcels of land, using different members of the same family to buy parcels of land, and, applying for exemptions (approximately 50 listed for Irving alone). These exemptions must be approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, based on recommendations of IRAC.
Corporations are defined in the LPA as “including a partnership, co-operative association, or body corporate whether formed or incorporated under the law of this province or any other, in Canada or outside Canada. For the purposes of this act a corporation and other corporations directly or indirectly controlled by the same person, group or organization shall be deemed one corporation.”
But corporations aren’t people. Corporations are groups of people who are concerned about making profit. Irvings and others show little regard for the spirit of the Act. Those entrusted to oversee land purchases, using the Land Protection Act as their guide, need to be held to account.
Islanders are passionate about their land. These continuous exemptions are the equivalent of death by a thousand cuts to the integrity of our LPA. Robert Irving’s demand last week pleading to allow potato farmers to purchase double the allowable limit for production was the last straw.
Irving says unless they can produce more potatoes, the potato industry on P.E.I. is doomed. We say, unless islanders do something now to take back control of our precious resources, our Island way of life is doomed.
The Coalition for the Protection of Island Land is determined to expose the variety of ways corporations violate the true intent of our LPA. Stay tuned in coming weeks and months as we work to raise awareness of these very real and present threats to our island way of life.
- Joan Diamond, New Dominion, representing the Coalition for the protection of P.E.I. Land