Question: “What do you do if you want to amass more and more prime farmland in PEI but you’ve already reached your limit under the Lands Protection Act?”

Answer: “Just get a family member to form a new corporation…..duh!”

Farmers have known through word-of-mouth conversations since last Fall that approximately 2,200 acres of prime potato land in the Bedeque area was purchased by the Irving family. But how that happened was a bit of a mystery, since nothing was showing up in the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) database – and the Lands Protection Act requires that all land purchases by corporations must go through IRAC. That is, nothing was showing up until last week.

Now that the Lands Protection Databank can be searched by the name of the applicant, I’ve been checking new applications on a regular basis, so it was relatively easy to find all 32 parcels of land comprising the approximately 2200 acres being sold by Brentall Farmers, owned by the Gardiner family when the applications were finally registered.

The assumption among local farmers hearing rumours of the land sale to Irving was that existing corporations owned by Irving were already at their maximum land holding limit of 3,000 arable acres per corporation; however, there’s no easy way to determine whether this is the case, especially since corporations can also own an additional 1,200 acres of “non-arable” land and the Lands Protection data bank doesn’t indicate what is arable or non-arable.

What we do know is there are currently applications before IRAC to purchase 32 parcels by two Irving owned companies [Long River Farms and Indian River Farms] which have been around for awhile, AND a new company that was just registered on February 5, 2019 [Galloway Farms] by Mary Jean Irving’s daughter Rebecca Irving, who is the sole director and sole shareholder.

None of these 32 land parcel applications have yet received a decision from Premier MacLauchlan and Executive Council. A normal period for IRAC to process applications, prepare detailed memos, and send the documentation off to Executive Council with a recommendation is approximately two weeks, but that can vary depending on the details of each application. The next meeting of Cabinet is apparently on February 28, 2019, so it is possible that decisions on these 32 parcels might be made at that time; however, I’m hoping Cabinet will hold off on these decisions for a number of reasons.

It is my understanding that local farmers wanted to purchase this land, possibly collectively as some kind of ‘cooperative’ bid where they would share use of the land – and if that’s the case, then they should be allowed to do so rather than have Irving amass more land.

Islanders have waited nearly a year for Minister Richard Brown to deliver on his promise of informing Islanders how much land is currently owned by corporations and non-residents, and IRAC is not yet finished with that study, so Executive Council should not decide on these land parcel applications by Irving-owned corporations until Islanders are given a full report on what land the Irving family currently owns, with full disclosure of all the corporations or other business entities Irving family members currently own and/or control, and how much land each of those entities own and/or control in PEI.

Below is a screen capture of the business/corporate registration data for each of these Irving-owned corporations involved in the current initiative to increase Irving-family land holdings by 2220.80 acres.

How many other corporations might members of the Irving family own in PEI? That’s really difficult to say, given the fact that the PEI government refuses to put a simple search feature on the Corporate/Business Registry that would allow Islanders to discover all the corporations of which a person is either a director or shareholder. Islanders have a right to know who owns and controls what on Prince Edward Island, including land.

As we move closer to our next general election, we need solid commitments from politicians courting our votes that they will not only provide this cost-free access to information with our Corporate/Business registry, but that they will plug the loop-holes in the Lands Protection Act so it can do what it was designed to do: protect our land!