Transparent access needed for P.E.I.’s business and land records
BY KEVIN ARSENAULT
Douglas Campbell’s article “Loopholes for all occasions,” (Guardian, March 17) confirmed that corporations and foreign interests are indeed exploiting the Lands Protection Act (LPA): plugging loopholes should be the first order of business once the legislature reconvenes.
When Campbell shared (in his Oct. 24, 2017 Guardian article) that “Islanders, especially those in rural communities, know that all around them . . . frequent and widespread under-the-radar transfers of large quantities of land to interlocked corporations and to foreign investors are happening,” Robert Mitchell responded by saying: “Prince Edward Island’s land ownership laws are not being exploited, despite concerns raised last week about loopholes being abused by large corporations,” (Guardian, Nov. 7, 2017). We now know for certain the LPA is being exploited . . . we just don’t know how extensively.
Campbell highlighted the “difficulty of finding consolidated information about land acquisitions,” adding, “we are anxious about what we will discover hidden from view. There is no transparency if we have to dig through archives and databanks to find out the truth.” He’s absolutely correct: government is not only denying the truth, it’s preventing us from discovering the full-truth on our own.
Several months ago, I tried to determine how much land the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) applied to purchase. Unfortunately, although not “protected,” that information is not currently accessible. I’ll explain.
The government’s Corporate/Business Names Registry provides names for the directors, shareholders and officers of all P.E.I. businesses. However, former Premier Robert Ghiz’s decision to insert a “captcha,” allowing a search of just one company at a time, made it impossible to discover the interlocking connections between individuals and corporations.
It took me a week to uncover 12 separate companies associated with GEBIS, some with the same addresses, and the same directors for several of these interconnected companies. I then went to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC)’s website to see how many land-purchase applications each of the GEBIS-affiliated companies had submitted. Again, although not protected, it was impossible to access this information since the databank of applications was searchable only by “Parcel#.”
In early Nov. 2017, I emailed IRAC’s CEO, Scott MacKenzie and explained my dilemma. His response: “You do raise an interesting point and it would be a more user-friendly database if there could be searches done by applicant/purchaser’s name. I have asked our IT people to look into making the change.” After three months with no change, I called him. He assured me he was committed to making the information available; however, it would take time. No changes have yet been made, so my GEBIS investigation remains on hold.
The MacLauchlan government apparently has a new P.E.I. Business Corporations Act in the works which may no longer require the public disclosure of shareholders. This must not be allowed. And we desperately need a Corporate/Business Registry with no blocks and new search fields allowing Islanders to see the interlocking connections between individuals and businesses. Finally, “numbered” companies should be banned outright. Enough already with all the secrecy: we’ve been kept in the dark far-too long concerning who’s doing business in, or buying, P.E.I.