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GUEST COMMENTARY: Lands Protection Act continues to be manipulated

Reg Phelan, left, and Doug Campbell of the National Farmer’s Union of P.E.I. told a standing committee Thursday they are concerned about the large parcels of P.E.I. land being purchased by big, off-Island companies and entities. (Teresa Wright/ The Guardian)
Doug Campbell, right, of the National Farmer’s Union of P.E.I. is concerned that the Lands Protection Act is being manipulated. -The Guardian

In 2018, the style of takeovers is more hidden than they were in other times. However, on the community level, people know who is taking control of vast acreages.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) notices and welcomes the community’s new expressions of interest about the Lands Protection Act.

Islanders know the painful history of the land and how easily it can be taken from the people. Now we are in a new era in how land transactions take place. In 2018, the style of takeovers is more hidden than they were in other times. However on the community level, people know who is taking control of vast acreages. What is not clear to the Island population is why the Lands Protection Act seems to be powerless to stop the rapid land grab so obvious in the rural community.

The NFU has not said that corporations and individuals are breaking the letter of the law set out in the Lands Protection Act. We are saying that there is an alarming ignorance on the part of policy makers and other Island residents about the spirit of the Act.

In 1982, then-Premier Angus MacLean, made it clear that the spirit/intent of the act was to keep farm land in the control of Island farm families and to keep all lands in control of Islanders. Control of the land was Premier MacLean’s overarching theme. Part of this was that individuals and corporations must be prohibited from amassing large land holding. The Act also put tight restrictions on non-resident purchases of land. There was no intention to discourage new people from becoming resident owners. It was meant to prevent absentee control of the land. The idea is that if you live in Dublin, Ireland, you have no right to own land in P.E.I. So, how is that working for us?

Our consultations with influential people, associates of Premier MacLean, tell the NFU that limiting land holding in the Act was an instrument of keeping Island land in specific Island hands. The restriction to a thousand-acre for individuals would prevent excessive concentration.

It meant that more people, rather than fewer, would actually control the land. The three-thousand-acre limit for corporations, in the vision of Premier MacLean, was meant as a business convenience for farm families. The intent was that three members of a family group, e.g. a parent and two adult children (or any other family combination) could form a corporation. In this way the original spirit of the Lands Protection Act was to keep farm land at the service of family farming model. It was never intended that the corporation limit would be manipulated to serve the interests of industrial agriculture. In fact, a five-acre limit was placed on industrial corporations (including processors).

So, to accept the spirit of the Lands Protection Act, in fact, requires accepting the original goals of keeping farm land in family farming. Angus MacLean must be turning over in his grave to see how his caring plan of providing convenience for farm families is being eroded. What a desecration to see the corporation allowance being manipulated for massive takeovers of farm land.

Contrary to the spirit of the Act, the goal of this current takeover is to enlarge the profits of the powerful corporations, and to firmly establish the industrial farming model as the predominant agricultural structure of Prince Edward Island.

Some people, including policy makers, seem to be easily confused about what a family farm is. The NFU has heard members of large corporations, controlling immense tracts of land in PEI, saying “we are a family involved in farming, so we are a ‘family farm." Of course, representatives of two major industrial farm corporations can rightfully declare that they are families. That does not make their operation a family farm.

With new awareness in the community about land, and about the Lands Protection Act, the National Farmers urges Islanders to speak out. Those in power interpret silence as consent.

  • Douglas Campbell is a dairy farmer in Southwest Lot 16, and District Director of the National Farmers Union.

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