The spirit and intent of P.E.I.’s Lands Protection Act is being abused, even if the letter of the law is being followed, says a group of Islanders.
About 60 individuals called for greater protection of the province’s land during the Cooper Institute’s fourth social justice symposium held at Milton Community Hall on Saturday.
The symposium, which had a theme of “The P.E.I. Lands Protection Act: The Spirit and the Letter”, saw a panel and group discussion about how to ensure Islanders keep control of the land.
One idea raised was the formation of a coalition to advocate for better land protection.
“How come we’ve never had a coalition for the protection of P.E.I. land? We had a beautiful, beautiful coalition formed and it was very effective for the protection of P.E.I. water,” Marie Burge, of the Cooper Institute, asked participants at the end of the day. “Let’s have groups, organizations and individuals be part of that and put our voices together. That’s what I really feel, what I wish would come out of the discussion we had today.”
Other suggestions throughout the day included encouraging individuals to read the act and lobby politicians to implement a review of the act every three years as recommended in Lands Protection Act commissioner Horace Carver’s 2013 report.
A major concern brought up was around loopholes that some say allow corporations to circumvent the spirit of the Land Protections Act, which currently allows individuals to own up to 1,000 acres and corporations to own up to 3,000 acres, while still technically following the law.
Douglas Campbell, National Farmers’ Union (NFU) district director for P.E.I., and NFU member Reg Phelan previously warned the Standing Committee on Communities, Land and Environment last fall about the abuse of those limits.
The minister at the time said the province was monitoring the situation and that the act was being followed.
However, Campbell said the law is open to misinterpretation and that lawyers are able to get around some of the act’s acreage limits.
“That’s why we’re saying even though they may be following what the law states, the intent and purpose of what it was meant to do is being contravened and therefore the spirit is being abused,” said Campbell, who was a panelist for the symposium.
Campbell said he was happy to see a diverse group at the symposium and noted that concern over land protection is not a new trend on P.E.I.
“It’s been ongoing from the beginning here with absentee landlords and trying to keep the land in the hands of Islanders,” he said. “The public in general have to be concerned because their food comes from the land. If it gets too out of control and into corporate hands, you lose that ability to be able to have a say when it comes to food production and costs.
“The land affects everybody.”
Panelist Edith Ling, who is the NFU women’s district director on P.E.I., said the loopholes also make it more difficult for young farmers to get started and for existing farmers to lease or buy additional land.
She said a forming a coalition advocating for more land protection would be an excellent start to solving the issue.
“People have got to get up in arms about what’s going on with their land… people have the power, they certainly have it every four years at the ballot box, and I think this has to be a people’s movement,” said Ling. “It is really encouraging to see this hall full of people. It says that people really are concerned about the land.”