The district director of the National Farmers Union is disappointed one of the first actions of the Dennis King government was to approve the leasing of almost 1,000 acres to Island Holdings Limited.
"It looks like it is just business as usual despite the promise of the premier during the election campaign to ensure his government would respect the spirit of the Lands Protection Act," Doug Campbell said.
Most of the 30 requests for the company to lease agricultural land were submitted to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission throughout April. They were all given cabinet approval on May 21. The total amount of land involved is 967.9 acres.
Island Holdings Limited, which has operated in PEI since the 1980's, has two directors -- Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving and James K Irving. Campbell said it is his understanding the regulations under the lease-in, lease out provisions of the Lands Protection Act would require the company to divest itself of a similar amount of land in order to remain in compliance with the corporate holding limit of 3000 acres.
"We want to know if that has taken place," the district director said. "We would also like to know what recommendation IRAC made on these applications."
He noted research conducted by Kevin J. Arsenault shows 198 applications by Island Holdings Limited had been approved between 1997 and mid-April of this year. Arsenault indicated in a blog post on April 11 those applications totaled 7,553.15 acres-- well over the corporate limit. Arsenault is a member of the NFU and was also a candidate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race, finishing third behind King and Allan Dale.
Just before the election writ was dropped, the former Liberal government approved a purchase of almost 100 acres to Island Holdings. At the same time, former Liberal cabinet minister Richard Brown turned thumbs down on a total of 2,200 acres that were to be sold in 32 parcels to three companies owned by Robert Irving's sister-- Mary Jean Irving, and her two daughters.
The National Farmers Union has long maintained successive governments of both political stripes have followed only the letter of the law when it comes to the 1982 legislation. Campbell said that has allowed large corporations like the Irvings to amass holdings in excess of the corporate limit through the use of a series of interlocking companies.
During the debate sponsored by the PEI Federation of Agriculture, King pledged his government would abide by both the spirit and intent of the act. The National Farmers Union has called for all MLA's to receive an education session on the Lands Protection Act but Campbell said they have not had any response from government on the request.
The district director said they are also hoping to hold a meeting with Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson and Environment, Climate Change and Water Minister Brad Trivers. Campbell added "we are hoping the Speech from the Throne will provide some direction on where the government plans to go with agricultural issues."
Here is a look at the lease transactions approved by cabinet to Island Holdings: 50 acres of land in Clinton from Robert John Paynter; 40 acres in North Rustico from Carl Toombs; 20 acres in Mayfield from Carl Toombs and Merton Toombs; 17 acres in Mayfield from Carl Toombs and Merton Toombs; 28 acres in New London from Campbellton Farms Inc.; 10 acres in New London from Campbelleton Farms Limited; 57 acres in Freetown from Elwood Paynter; 43 acres in Freetown from Elwood Paynter; 35 acres in Margate from Georgina and Philip Henderson; 30 acres in Margate from Georgina and Philip Henderson; 34 acres in New London from Marie Mitzi Ebers; 17 acres in Mayfield from Kent and Dianne Wyand; 35 acres in Kensington from Errol Waugh, Shirley Waugh and E & S Waugh Farms Ltd.; 25 acres in Freetown from Alfred and Laura Kay Baglole; 25 acres in Freetown from Baglole Farms Ltd.; 21.5 acres in Freetown from Baglole Farms Ltd.; 21 acres in Toronto from 101258 P.E.I. Inc.; 36 acres in New Glasgow from 101258 P.E.I. Inc.; three acres in New Glasgow from John and Lois Darley; 72 acres in Anglo Rustico from Hoff Dairy Inc.; 44 acres in North Rustico from Norman Burdette Smith; 72 acres in Kensington from Morrison Farms Inc.; 30 acres in Kensington from Morrison Farms Inc.; 14 acres in St Ann from David and Shirley Smith; 31 acres in Mayfield from David and Shirley Smith; 30 acres in Freetown from Reeves Farms Inc.; 42 acres in Park Corner from Howatt Enterprises Inc. and 23 acres in Mayfield from Allan and Phyllis Weeks.