The approval by executive council of 30 applications for Island Holdings to lease land for this crop season seems to fly in the face of the statements made by Premier Dennis King on several occasions during the campaign that he intended to ensure the spirit of the Lands Protection Act was respected by his government.
The National Farmers Union has long maintained provincial governments of both political stripes have followed only the letter of the law. District Director Doug Campbell said that has allowed large corporations like the Irvings to bypass the corporate limit of 3000 acres through a series of interlocking companies.
Research done by Kevin Arsenault, who is an NFU member as well as a candidate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race that elected King in February, maintains that Island Holdings has gotten approval for 198 applications totaling over 7500 acres since 1997. That was before the current round of applications which collectively add up to almost 969 acres.
It would have been prudent to put the applications on hold pending the completion of a review of land holdings by the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission that was ordered by the former Liberal government. Campbell is right when he said there are a number of questions regarding the applications, including whether IRAC recommended to executive council they be approved.
Since the applications dealt with leased land, there should a requirement under the lease in-lease out provisions of the act regulations requiring Island Holdings to divest themselves of a similar amount of land to what was leased. There has been no indication that has happened.
The NFU suggestion that all MLA's receive a briefing on the Lands Protection Act is a good one (as is the plan by the Federation of Agriculture to organize farm tours for the three party caucuses.) At a time when many of the MLA's come from a non-farming background, anything that provides them with a greater appreciation of agriculture and the problems the industry faces is a positive development.
I admit there was a degree of urgency since the applications dealt with land to be used during the current crop year. However, the quick approval is sending a signal that it is just business as usual for corporations when it comes to acquiring land in the province.
The other major surprise from the government 's first month in office (at least from this industry's perspective) is the unexplained departure of Laurie Loane as deputy minister just several weeks into her tenure. Brian Matheson has been named as acting deputy minister. While he is certainly more than capable of handling the job, a permanent replacement should be named in short order.
Hopefully the Speech From the Throne later this week will lay out the direction the new government intends to proceed when it comes to the Island's number one industry. All of the parties during the election campaign talked about consulting widely with industry to help tackle the problems facing the sector. It is now time to put those words into action.