The president of the PEI Federation of Agriculture is expecting some lively discussion among the province's 27 MLA's when they join federation members September 12 to visit farms across the province.
Executive Director Robert Godfrey reached out to all three parties following the April 23 election offering to organize the tour. David Mol said they have received a positive response from all three caucuses and he is hoping they will speak more freely away from the glare of legislature debate.
"For MLA's that don't come from a farming background, we are hoping this will be an opportunity to learn more about the Island's number one industry,", he said.
In addition to the farm stops, Mol is expecting plenty of lively discussion between the MLA's and industry members on the issues facing agriculture. He suspects the top item on everybody's list will be the sale of 2,200 acres of farmland to a company owned by Rebecca Jean Irving.
Brendel Farms (which lists Derrick, Dwight, Megan and Crystal Gardiner as directors) were the former owners of the land and they incorporated another company known as Haslemere Farms Limited. 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.
Company lawyer Geoff Connolly explained in a media interview the purchase did not require approval from the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission since the land transfer occurred before Irving purchased the company. He said the purchase is in full compliance with the Business Corporation Act, which was passed last June by the previous Liberal administration.
The previous government also turned down the sale of the Brendel land to three companies with ties to the Irving family on the day the election writ was issued. Richard Brown, who was then minister of communities, land and environment, said the commission had recommended the sale be stopped.
Like many within the industry, Mol believes exploiting the legal loophole was a deliberate attempt by the Irvings to circumvent the spirit of the Lands Protection Act. Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson has asked for a review of the transaction to determine its legality and has pledged to plug the loophole in the legislation.
Opposition Agriculture Critic Michele Beaton has asked the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability to review the Lands Protection Act. If the committee agrees to that request, Mol said the federation will be making a presentation.
The federation president said he is heartened by both the review process and the commitment by both Thompson and Premier Dennis King to make sure the legal loophole is plugged. He said it is obvious a complete review of the legislation is needed to ensure there are no further loopholes that can be exploited. Mol noted King made that commitment during a leader's debate on agriculture issues held by the federation during the campaign.
"We have asked for a meeting with government and we intend to keep their feet to the fire to ensure that happens," Mol said.
While he would definitely like to see the sale reversed, Mol doubts that will happen if the government review finds it meets the letter of the law. He said what has to happen now is to make sure the sale does not become a precedent.