As he announced the launch of public consultations for a review of the Lands Protection Act, Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson found himself under pressure from both sides of the legislature to move quickly.
Mermaid-Stratford MLA Michele Beaton, who is the critic for agriculture matters said she was surprised to find public consultations were just happening now despite the fact Thompson announced the review over ten months ago.
Thompson indicated at that time he hoped to have legislation ready to introduce in time for the session that concluded in mid-July. The project plan Thompson tabled in the legislature after launching a website called "Land Matters" contains five phases. However, there is no timelines attached other than the fact public consultations will begin this summer.
The minister made no apologies for that fact, saying a malware attack on the government computer system in February, not to mention COVID-19, have slowed down the process. He said the job of putting together an advisory committee is now in the works that will be chaired by retired ADL president Jim Bradley and Lori Robinson, the farm manager for Eric C. Robinson.
Beaton said she declined Thompson's invitation to sit on the committee, saying she feels the presence of politicians on the board would be a mistake. Thompson said he would like to see all three parties in the legislature involved in the process. Beaton noted there have been three major studies conducted on land issues, namely the work of the late Provincial Court Judge Ralph Thompson, Horace Carver and a 2014 task force on the land.
"There has been so much work done on this, so if you don’t have the answers you need to read the reports," she told the minister.
The opposition MLA also asked Thompson to use the Engage PEI process to recruit members to the advisory panel. She also asked if the committee would be kept in place after the review process was completed to advise government on land matters going forward.
"The advisory committee will determine how long they are going to need to serve on this," he replied. "It could be a year until we rebuild – we modernize the LPA 2.0. It could be far and beyond that if the advisory committee so chooses."
Beaton left no doubt about her preference to see the advisory body made a permanent fixture, saying "A permanent committee of talented, passionate and knowledgeable people selected through the Engage PEI process would be an ideal vehicle to have this conversation and continue this conversation." The minister said if the committee suggests there should be as permanent board in place, he would support that recommendation.
Morell- Donagh MLA Sidney MacEwen, who is the Government House Leader, also had some questions for his caucus colleague on the timelines for a new act. He noted the minister had earlier indicated an proposed changes to the act should be ready for debate during the fall session of the legislature in November , but he now seemed to be backing away from that timeline.
"The lands protection act 2.0 is something that I am going to take pride in doing and we’re going to do it right," the minister said. "We want to consult with Islanders and we want to consult with all the stakeholders."
In response to a question from Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, Thompson said he will make sure there are representatives of the Island's Indigenous people on the advisory panel.
Beaton said she was a little concerned about the scope of the review, noting it pertains to all laws and policies regarding land use and ownership. She said it would take a well defined strategy to complete that job and she challenged the minister to unveil a working plan in more detail than the one page summary tabled in the house.
"Our department is going to work hard. They’re going to talk to Islanders. They’re going to talk to Islanders about the land laws on this Island," he said. "The LPA has worked for 30 years and it will work for 30 more after this process is done. Land use is a big aspect of this. The Planning Act is key. It’s in my mandate letter to review the Planning Act, so that is part of our consultation to Islanders."
She asked the minister once again if he would consider making the advisory committee permanent with clear terms of references laid out in legislation. The minister replied "I want to ensure that the LPA, whether it’s an advisory committee that lasts forever, or whether it’s not, it will be Islanders that decide that. I am committed to making Islanders’ voices heard so that they have the voice on the land."