A committee is now in the process of being formed that will garner public input on potential changes to the Lands Protection Act.
Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson told this newspaper retired ADL president Jim Bradley and Lori Robinson, who is the Farm Manager at Eric C Robinson Inc., have agreed to be co-chairs of the committee. He said the group will also include representatives from municipalities, young farmers, the Law Society and other interested stakeholders.
"There will probably be in the range of 12-14 people," he said in an interview.
Thompson is hoping the committee can begin work in April meeting with groups with a direct interest in land issues like the farming community and municipalities. Right now, he said the plan is to have wider consultations over the summer with the aim of introducing changes to the act during the fall sitting.
The minister tabled changes to the legislation last fall aimed to prevent a reoccurrence of the sale of 2,200 acres of farmland in the Summerside-Bedeque area from Brendel Farms to a com pan y owned by Rebecca Irving but promised a full review of the legislation. The sale of the land to three Irving companies had previously been turned down by the province. The Gardiner family, which owned Brendel Farms, created another company calls Haslemere Farms and transferred the land to that company. 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
The amendments allow for two or more corporations that are directly or indirectly controlled by the same person, corporation, group or other organization to be deemed to be one corporation. The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission now also has the authority to demand production of and inspect all or any of the books, documents, papers or records of any person or corporation for the purpose of determining the direct or indirect control of a corporation.
While not wanting to prejudge the committee's work, Thompson called another land sale now in the final stages of approval before the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission the "perfect model" to ensure that in cases where a producer is retiring, farmers in the community can pool their resources to ensure the land remains in agriculture production.
A group of farmers in the Morell area led by Craig Dingwell are working together to purchase just over 2,000 acres from retiring farmer Sterling MacSwain. Thompson said the revised act must ensure that farmers are able to acquire land at a time when more acreage than ever is needed and "we only have 560,000 acres of farmland on PEI."
The minister did not rule out an increase to the current limits of 1,000 acres per individual and 3,000 acres for corporations. Those limits have been in place since the act was passed in 1982 although the method used to calculate the holdings has changed over time.
The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission has not yet completed its review of the Brendel transaction, missing a timeline of the end of last year set by Commission Chair Scott MacKenzie during an appearance before the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability.
Thompson recently announced the appointment of retired Supreme Court Judge Gerard Mitchell as chief investigator into the Brendel-Haslemere sale for the commission. Mitchell is a former police commission and oversaw the referendum on mixed member proportional representation that took place in conjunction with the last provincial election.
Mitchell's appointment has come under fire from Green Party Agriculture Critic Michele Beaton. She noted Mitchell's daughter, Erin, was deputy minister of justice and public safety (Thompson is also minister of that department) during the time the sale took place. She has since been appointed as a commissioner at IRAC.