When will the independent review into the acquisition of 2,200 acres of farmland in the Summerside-Bedeque area be completed?
Opposition Agriculture and Land Critic Michele Beaton asked that question to the cabinet minister she shadows recently in the legislature and Bloyce Thompson could provide little in the way of specifics. He asked Gerard Mitchell, who is a retired Supreme Court judge and a former police commissioner, to investigate the Brendel-Haslemere sale for the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission earlier this year.
The sale of the land from Brendel Farms to three companies owned by Mary Jean Irving and her two daughters was turned down by the previous Liberal government just days before the 2019 election. However, a series of paper transactions last summer resulted in a corporation owned by Rebecca Irving as the sole shareholder of a company owning the land.
The Gardiner family, which owned Brendel Farms, created another company calls Haslemere Farms and transferred the land to that company. Rebecca Irving then purchased the company rather than the land, meaning the land transaction did not have to be submitted to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission for approval.
Beaton wanted to know when Mitchell's work might be completed and if the report would be made public. The minister said the process has been delayed by COVID-19 but added "I expect a report shortly, I hope. I don’t control the timeline because it is an independent investigation. "
The opposition MLA said the issue first surfaced over a year ago and she asked "What concerns me is, if we do have any other land deals that require an investigation, how do we expect Islanders to get a timely response from IRAC on the findings of those investigations? "
Thompson said he was also frustrated by the timeline, but added "IRAC is arm’s length from government, they’re an independent body, so we have to respect their timelines and we can’t interfere with investigations. "
Beaton said she respects the independence of the commission but added "Islanders do have a right to know what is happening with their land. During the election, one of the top topics for Islanders was taking care of our Island lands. It is the gift of jurisdiction."
She asked Thompson how he envisioned the process could be made more timely and the minister replied "The importance of land to me – and to this government – is important. We aren’t making any more agriculture land. Land use is important, land ownership is important. We will get to the bottom of this. Yes, we need a better system for faster investigation, but maybe we need stronger legislations. That’s why we’re bringing in the Land Protection Act 2.0, modernizing the act for the next 30 years. "