I recently watched the Presentation which the Federation of Agriculture [President, David Mol & Executive Director, Robert Godfrey] made to the Standing Committee on Communities, Land and Environment on March 15, 2018. The Federation did a good job of raising concerns about the decreasing number of Island farmers, and the decreasing amount of land being farmed.
After their presentation, committee members asked questions. I was shocked at the condescending attitude of Liberal MLA Allen Roach. His entire demeanor and approach amounted to an exercise in intimidation and bullying tactics, which he clearly employed in an attempt to shut down any further inquiry into the rapid rate at which Land and property in Eastern PEI is being acquired by corporations and non-farming Asian buyers.
You can judge for yourself by watching two segments of the 2 1/2 hr presentation pertaining to the Buddhists and land in Eastern PEI, which I have spliced together into one video clip totalling 22 minutes, found at the end of this article.
Roach went so far as to introduce a motion to rescind the Committee’s earlier decision to invite the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) to appear before the committee; however, he withdrew that motion under protest from Peter Bevan-Baker, possibly because MLA Colin LaVie had already left because the meeting had gone past the scheduled 2 hrs and he had another commitment.
You can fast-forward to the end now if you wish, but you really should take the time to read what follows to get the necessary background information and contextual analysis needed to properly understand what transpires in the video clip; and also, to appreciate better why I believe Roach should immediately recuse himself from this committee which is attempting to uncover critically-important information on an urgent issue affecting PEI.
Background & Context
You may recall the brief media flurry following a previous Presentation to the Standing Committee on Communities, Land and the Environment delivered on November 2, 2017 by the National Farmers Union (NFU) [Douglas Campbell (District 1 Director) & Reg Phelan (Region 1 Coordinator)]. Campbell had published a Guest Opinion in Island newspapers just a week earlier (October 24, 2017) titled, Foreign investors gobbling farmland, which had obviously given committee members a “heads up” on what to expect. In that article, Campbell stated:
The National Farmers Union (NFU) is alarmed by the rate at which P.E.I. farmland is being transferred to large corporate interests. Islanders, especially those in rural communities, know that all around them, land is being transferred generally in non-transparent transactions. What is involved are frequent and widespread under-the-radar transfers of large quantities of land to interlocked corporations and to foreign investors. Without much apparent concern on the part of government, P.E.I. is now a victim of the well-known global land grab.
Although the NFU weren’t claiming that the Lands Protection Act or Regulations were being violated in terms of a failure to comply with the strict “letter” of the law, they did allege that the “spirit and intent” of the Act was being exploited by foreign and corporate interests as a result of the existence of loopholes, resulting in more and more farmland being taken out of production.
The NFU presentation clearly had an impact on committee members, who supported a resolution from Peter Bevan-Baker to invite Cavendish Farms; Vanco Farms and the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) to come before the committee to discuss land issues and the concerns raised by the NFU.
During the March 15th committee hearing, an update was provided informing committee members that letters to these three large landholders went out in November, 2017; however, the substitute Clerk attending the hearing didn’t know if they had yet responded.
The Facts About Land Purchases in Eastern PEI Needing More Clarification
Here’s what we know about recent land purchases in Eastern PEI. More than 5,000 acres of land have been acquired over the past 8 years (or so) by people with Asian names. How many are Buddhists, or formally associated with GEBIS? I don’t think anyone knows for certain, except possibly the government. How much land does GEBIS own? Allen Roach – as you will hear in the video clip below – made much of the fact that GEBIS only owns about 1,100 acres of land, and he pretty much used that information to bully Robert Godfrey into apologizing for using the 5,000 acre number…..which, by the way, Godfrey indicated he had received from someone within government who he chose not to name.
What Roach refused to consider or discuss is whether – or to what extent – other corporate entities have been formed by the Buddhists (or by other individuals associated with the Buddhists, e.g., “lay members” but not monks) which have also acquired substantial amounts of land. As I indicated in my recent Guest Opinion in the Journal Pioneer and Guardian (which will also be appearing in the next edition of the Eastern Graphic, March 28), I spent nearly a week putting together a Chart of businesses associated with the Buddhists . It’s not complete by any means, but you can see that many of the same “directors” are involved with more than one business tied to either the Buddhist monks or nuns.
And we don’t know how many people have – like Allen Roach suggested – now acquired Canadian Citizenship status and would therefore no longer need to go through IRAC to purchase land if they are Island residents. So the issue is clearly not simply whether GEBIS has formal ownership of those 5,000+ acres – which they clearly do not, at least as one incorporated entity – but whether there are 5,000+ acres that have been acquired by Asian land speculators, a portion of which is being taken out of farming.
Do Asians buying land in PEI have something to hide? It seems so, notwithstanding all their gracious and friendly open houses and much-appreciated community involvements. The promise of open and full disclosure made to David Weale by GEBIS a number of months ago, for example, quickly turned into a Letter from a high-profiled Toronto lawyer and a decision to renege on an offer to meet with David and Ian Petrie.
And regarding the exploitation of the “spirit and intent” of the Lands Protection Act; well, that’s no longer in question. Douglas Campbell’s more recent Article in the Journal Pioneer and Guardian offers precise details on one disturbing case that could – for all we know – be happening many times over:
The situation is as follows: around mid-2017, 75 acres of farmland came up for sale in Valleyfield, parcel #272336. A resident of Hebei, China, Yongzhang Xia, applied to the Island Regulatory Appeals Commission (IRAC) to purchase the land. The request was denied by Executive Council, whose authorization would have been required (EC2017-502). A second request for the same land came from a corporation, Universal Cihang Ltd, Prince Edward Island, Canada, in which the name of Yongzhang Xia again appears, now as a shareholder. The request was also denied (EC2017-495). Both denials are dated August 22, 2017. The NFU thanks the Executive Council for denying these two applications. The next phase of this story is very upsetting for the future of farmland in P.E.I. As most Islanders know, the Lands Protection Act allows non- residents to acquire up to five acres of land. No approval is required. It is ironic that while non-residents can easily take possession of five acres, resident Islanders can often afford only one acre for a building lot. We know the results of this five-acre allowance when we view the non-resident ownership of an estimated 50 per cent of our coast line. And many people have stories of how land for residential lots has been purchased by a group whose members conspire to take ownership of five acres each. Now back to Valleyfield. In the fall of 2017, in order to take possession of the desired farmland, 15 non-residents, all of Hebei, China, came together to purchase the 75 acres of farmland, each one supposedly taking ownership of five acres.
With the obvious gaps in information about what is going on with land sales and purchases in PEI, one would think all Standing Committee members would welcome an opportunity to have a conversation with members of the GEBIS community, with Cavendish Farms, and with Vanco Farms.
So I was not only surprised at the obvious anger and intimidation tactics displayed by Allen Roach at the March 15 Standing Committee meeting, I was sincerely baffled as to what might be fueling his disdain for wanting to help the committee get the clarification they were seeking, so the so-called “rumours” Roach casually dismissed as insignificant could be put to rest in the only way possible: with accurate and complete information. Besides, answering those questions isn’t simply a curiosity of the committee members, it’s both the mandate and duty of the committee.
Brad Trivers made an excellent point by saying that information the government has in its possession regarding land purchases (which the committee is requesting) is being kept secret by the government and needs to be made available to the committee. Yet, Allen Roach had the audacity to angrily accuse both presenters and opposition members on the committee of “defending rumours” while at the same time as refusing to provide the information that would answer the questions and clarify the situation.
I started to suspect that there had to be something else going on with Roach….something driving his passionate attempts to shut down any further investigation into GEBIS and the corporate and foreign acquisition of land in Eastern PEI. I then discovered the likely source of his obstinance and accusatory tirade.
Does Allen Roach have a Conflict of Interest?
Allen Roach and his wife Elizabeth (“Betty”) owned a home at 186 MacCallum Drive in Brudenell (Parcel #909648 – Map# 11L027E1) for many years. In May, 2017, their property had an assessed value of $574,800. By early July, 2017 the assessed value had risen to $614,200 when Roach then sold his home (on July 18, 2017) to Chin-Fang Shen and Chien-Ju Chen.
Are these two individuals Buddhists or associated with the Buddhist monastery? I don’t know. How much did Allen Roach receive for his house? Although I can’t independently confirm the amount that I was told, if it is correct….well, let’s just say it was considerably more than the assessed value.
Let’s be clear – I’m not suggesting Allen Roach can’t sell his house to whomever he wants in compliance with the laws and regulations of P.E.I. But here is where I have a big concern….when he sold his house to Asian buyers last July, he was not only the MLA of the riding where many of his constituents have grave concerns about the transfer of land to foreign and/or corporate buyers – which Roach is now dismissing as unfounded “rumours”; he was also a member of Cabinet and Executive Council making the final decisions on land purchase applications by non-residents and corporations.
And this is the really troubling part of this story: Robert Godfrey (in the March 15 presentation) reported that IRAC – which presumably knows the laws, regulations, and circumstances regarding which parcels should and should not be sold when they receive applications – have apparently been making recommendations to Cabinet to NOT allow certain purchases which Executive Council have been ignoring and allowing.
On what possible grounds are members of Executive Council deciding not to accept those recommendations from IRAC? How many times has that happened with Asian non-resident buyers? We don’t know…the official recommendations which IRAC makes to Cabinet are not recorded in the LPA Databank or Orders in Council. But government knows, and government should be turning this information over to all Standing Committee members who are tasked with ensuring that all is well in Anne’s land (with respect to Anne’s land).
Sadly, opposition members on the committee are just as much in the dark about this as the rest of us. Yet, Roach had the nerve to subtly suggest that both committee members and presenters to the Committee were being callous, insensitive (and by implication, possibly even discriminatory, xenophobic or racist) for asking questions they actually have a duty to ask as elected MLAs on a Standing Committee investigating land policy and usage.
Roach should immediately recuse himself from the committee. Not only is he not offering constructive input, he’s belligerently frustrating the legitimate efforts of the opposition members to get to the bottom of this urgent matter.
Here’s the video comprising the two spliced-together segments (22 minutes).