Opposition Agriculture Critic Michele Beaton is asking the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability to review the Lands Protection Act in the wake of the sale of 2,200 acres of agricultural farmland to a company owned by Rebecca Irving.
The committee, which is responsible for agricultural issues under the new committee structure established by the minority Progressive Conservative government, was holding its inaugural meeting as this issue went to press. The committee is chaired by Montague-Kilmuir MLA Corey Deagle and includes two members from each party. Beaton is not a committee member. However, she formally requested the committee look into the issue.
This is the same land three companies tied to the Irving family tried to purchase from Brendel Farms earlier this year. The previous Liberal administration turned down the sale on the day the election writ was issued, based on a recommendation from the Island regulatory and Appeals Commission.
This time around, both IRAC and Executive Council (which has the final say on any land applications), were left out of the equation. Brendel Farms (which lists Derrick, Dwight, Megan and Crystal Gardiner as directors) incorporated another company known as Haslemere Farms Limited on July 17. Ownership of the land in question was transferred from Brendel to Haslemere Farms. Rebecca Irving then purchased Haslemere Farms and changed the company name to Red Fox Acres Limited.
Geoffrey Connelly, who acted as the lawyer for Rebecca Irving, said in a media interview the land transaction happened when the Gardeners owned Haslemere. Since the company was purchased rather than the land, IRAC was not involved. He said the sale was in full compliance with the Business Corporation Act, which was passed last June by the previous Liberal administration.
“Such blatant disregard for the Act is upsetting for many Islanders,” Beaton said.
Beaton questioned Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson in the legislature July 10 about another attempt by Irving to purchase the land. Thompson replied he had not received any application and told Beaton the government doesn't operate on rumours.
"The evidence has been put across his desk," the freshman MLA said in a news release. "Will the Minister to now act upon it, review the Lands Protection Act, and report back to Islanders just how big this problem is?”
Thompson indicated in a statement in mid-August, the matter was under review "both internally by my department and also externally as a result of my request to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission to investigate the transaction. "
Pointing to Connolly's remarks to the media that the sale exploited a legal loophole, Thompson said the investigation will determine if this position is correct. He promised "If it is determined that a “loophole” was used to skirt the intent of the legislation, we will move to amend the legislation to prevent this from happening again. " Thompson said the review is moving ahead with the full support of Premier Dennis King.
“Such blatant disregard for the Act is upsetting for many Islanders,” said Beaton. “As soon as these facts became evident, I spoke with the Minister responsible for Agriculture and Land, reminding him of his government’s commitment to uphold the Lands Protection Act."
The opposition critic said an extensive review of the act is necessary, adding " These loopholes must be closed. We must protect and be faithful stewards of our limited land resources.”