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A Legislative standing committee has passed a motion to require the Province’s Minister of Agriculture and Land to release an investigative report into the Brendel land sale, a land transaction that allegedly went afoul of the Lands Protection Act.
The Brendel report was completed by the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) but has been a carefully guarded secret since last fall. Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson has said the report must go through the Freedom of Information process; some information may be redacted under this process as it would be considered personal information.
However, standing committees have the ability to compel the production of documents without going through the Freedom of Information process.
The investigation concerned a transfer of 2,200 acres of land between a family farming operation and Red Fox Acres Ltd., a company which lists a member of the Irving family as a director.
Friday’s motion called for the committee to subpoena the report along with “any other associated documents necessary to interpret and understand the report and its findings.” The motion also called for the subpoena to be issued no later than 11:59 p.m. on March 2.
But the motion, passed by the standing committee on health and social development, also calls for the documents to be produced at an in-camera meeting, in physical form only. This means the standing committee will not release the report publicly. The motion stated that this would balance the need to respect privacy concerns of the parties involved with the duty of the committee to hold government to account.
While committee members cannot release details contained in the Brendel report, they can make recommendations based on these details.
The motion was introduced by Green MLA Trish Altass.
"Islanders really want to ensure that the spirit and intent of the Lands Protection Act is being upheld. And there are a lot of questions about what happened with this particular situation,” Altass told The Guardian on Friday.
“It's unfortunate that it got to that stage. It's very unfortunate that the Minister did not choose to simply table the report in the legislative assembly."
Thompson had turned down an earlier request from the committee to provide the Brendel report. He said this was done in order to avoid compromising the legal position of the Province.
Legal counsel representing Red Fox Acres Ltd. and Rebecca Irving have filed for a judicial review of a Ministerial decision by Thompson ordering divestiture of land, due to the findings of the Brendel report.
"I've followed the letter of the law all the way through this,” Thompson said in an interview.
"One misstep and the investigation could be thrown out. I have to take this seriously and follow every legal procedure.”
Nevertheless, Thompson said he would comply with a subpoena of the committee.
"I will hand-deliver the report. I'll carry it in myself," he said.
The Brendel investigation could have implications for a planned overhaul of the Lands Protection Act, as well as the Planning Act. A land matters committee is expected to make recommendations to update and change these laws in the spring. Agricultural groups have suggested loopholes in the Act allows certain actors to circumvent its limits on landholdings.
During Question Period on Friday, Green agriculture critic Michele Beaton suggested the juggling process over the release of the Brendel report could compromise the work of the land matters committee.
“What answers can they give you if they haven’t seen what’s in the report?” Beaton asked, referring to the Brendel investigation.
“I will follow that letter of the law. And I guarantee you, every Islander will see this report, Mr. Speaker, in whole,” Thompson responded.
In an interview, Thompson said the Land Matters committee has not yet seen the report but “will definitely see the report” before they present their recommendations in June.