Why is Government’s Version of the Asian Land Approval Process Different from IRAC’s?

PREAMBLE

On Tuesday (June 23, 2020), Green MLA Michele Beaton asked Minister of Agriculture and Land, Hon. Bloyce Thompson three further questions on Executive Council’s June 9, 2020 decision granting approval to HopeTown Development Company Inc. to purchase 504 acres of land in Eastern PEI.

Stu Neatby interviewed Minister Thompson later that day, and confirmed in a Guardian news story that a HopeTown housing development plan related to the Buddhist monasteries was in the works (P.E.I. Greens question Kings County land sale).

“In an interview, Thompson confirmed that the HopeTown Development Company planned to use the land for a residential development related to Buddhist monasteries in the region.”

That raised some eyebrows, especially given the fact that Executive Council had imposed a condition on the approval that stipulated that the land was not to be developed but kept in agricultural use.

Part I of this article provides some additional “clarification of the confusion” in an attempt to zero in on what the provincial government should be explaining to all of us if they want to clear up this mess. I also suggest five questions that go directly to the heart of this issue and demand answers.

Part 11 presents video clips of the three separate questions and responses for MLA Beaton with just a paragraph or two of commentary with each exchange.

Reviewing the documentary facts in Part I provides  the EC and IRAC records establishing an “official” documentary context within which to evaluate the merits of Minister Thompson’s responses to Beaton’s three questions in Part II.

1.  Why are IRAC and Executive Council Saying Different Things?

To find out exactly what was said and decided by who in this matter – as far as that can presently be determined from the available information and documentation  – I went back to take a more careful look at the Executive Council Orders from June 9, 2020, as well as the applications in IRAC’s land Application Databank.

I found two significant “discrepancies” between the Executive Council Orders and IRAC Application Records which raise additional questions.

To recap: Executive Council made decisions on three new applications all submitted to IRAC in early 2020; two on January 9th, one on February 20th. Each application was for the same 10 parcels of land in Eastern PEI totaling 504 acres.

The two applications that were submitted on January 9th were (1) HopeTown Development Company Ltd. and (2) Yaw Hui Chen, a Taiwanese resident.  A third application was submitted on February 20th from Xiaofeng Li from Niagara, Ontario.

Here is one of  EC Orders approving that 504 acres for HopeTown:ApprovalHere is the second Order with the balance of acreage making up the total of 504 acres:Approval 2

The “current owner” presented in this Order is quite different from what appears on the Application submitted to IRAC. On the Lands Application Databank record, it is presented as an application from one individual, “Chang Zhang”.

In the above Orders approving HopeTown’s January 9th application, it indicates that the land is being acquired from five individuals, two of whom are the “Applicants” for these same parcels in applications submitted January 9th (Yaw Hui Chen) and February 20th (Xiaofeng Li of Niagara).

It would appear that these five people jointly-own this land through incorporation, so why was the “current land owner” presented to IRAC as only “Chang Zhang” – an individual – rather than as an application from a corporation?

Even more perplexing is why the “current owner” of those 10 parcels listed in both Yaw Hui Chen’s and Xiaofeng Li’s applications is listed in IRACs Lands Application Database as also just Chang Zhang; however, in both EC Orders denying each of those applications, the person identified as the owner is a person by the name of Bin Sun.

If you go back to the Lands Application Databank and do a search for “Bin Sun” you’ll find that there never was an application submitted to IRAC in which Bin Sun was either the applicant or current owner of PEI Land.

2.  Were these “Retroactive Applications” that were Denied?

The attempt to sell what happened with these land deal decisions on June 9th at Executive Council  as a “retroactive” application makes no sense to me. That word is nowhere defined or used in the Lands Protection Act.

The record shows that three entirely “new” applications were submitted to IRAC in early 2020; that IRAC made recommendations to Executive Council on those new applications on March 22nd; and that Executive Council denied two of those applications (Chen from Taiwan; Li from Ontario)  and approved the other (HopeTown) on June 9th.

Is it possible that those two applications that were denied were something other than the two applications submitted to IRAC? That those applications with a different person identified as the parcel owner werer something different from what was dragged forward from the previous Liberal decisions Minister Thompson continuously suggests is the basis for calling what happened on June 9th a “retroactive” application?

Could it be that the reference to “Bin Sun” as the current owner is itself evidence that indicates that Cabinet were dealing with something other than those two applications to IRAC by Yaw Hui Chen and Xiaofeng Li?  Short answer: no.

To determine if the denial corresponds with the same applications forwarded to EC by IRAC one has only to cross-reference the file numbers of EC Orders with IRAC applications which are both recorded in one record in IRAC’s Land Application Data Bank.

Turns out that both applications – for which IRAC made and sent recommendations to Executive Council on March 22nd –  do correspond with the two Orders documenting denials. So why do they have different “current owners”?

Here’s just one IRAC database record to illustrate that IRAC’s applications all listing only Chang Zhang as the current owner correspond to the Orders proving that Executive Council did in fact make those “denial ” decisions on June 9, 2020 indicating that the current owner was someone other than the person on the applications? Why?   

IRAC denial of Chen

Notice that the EC Order Number and EC Decision Date correspond exactly with what is in the June 9, 2020 Orders in Council.

At this point, there are five key questions that I believe the Government must provide answers to if any light is to be shed on what is becoming an increasingly confusing as well as concerning affair:

  1. Why is the current owner with the two applications that were denied – Chen and LI – identified as Chang Zhang  in IRAC applications, but as “Bin Sun” by Executive Council?
  2. Why is the current owner with the one application that was approved – HopeTown – listed as “Chang Zhang” on IRAC applicatoins, but Chang Zhang and four other individuals by Executive Council? Was this in fact an incorporated entity? If so, why was it not identified in the IRAC application as a corporation?
  3. Who are the current shareholders of HopeTown Development Company Inc.?
  4. Why was HopeTown Development Company Inc.’s application approved despite the fact that Xiaofeng Li is a Director of HopeTown? Especially given the fact that Xiaofeng Li’s own February 20th application to purchase these same 10 parcels was  denied on the same day on the basis that Mr. Li was not a resident of PEI?
  5. Was the condition that Executive Council attached to the approval (that the 504 acres of land NOT BE DEVELOPED) simply a pretense? Or will Government ensure Islanders that at no time will this government authorize these 504 acres of land to be taken out of agriculture and developed as Islanders want Government to do and the spirit of the Lands Protection Act says should be done?

 

PART II

The most interesting thing about Minister Thompson’s response to MLA Beaton’s first question is how he says the land was first purchased in 2017, which I’m interpreting as him intending to say that it is when that land was first sold to Asian buyers connected to Buddhist monks.  There are “previous sales” for all new applications.

Previous sales of parcels should not factor into new applications submitted to IRAC which are then forwarded to Executive Council for final decisions.

Minister Thompson has been attempting to explain these three new applications submitted to his government as somehow representing one “retroactive” decision to undo something that was done by the previous Liberal government; but again, once the Minister totally loses us in that unintelligible fog – there is simply nothing in the documentation that supports that particular explanation.

Minister Thompson states that after the initial 2017 purchase by an individual in there was then a “merging” of parcels between that person and at least one other person he identifies as Bin Sun, which resulted in “incorporation”, but Minister Thompson doesn’t name that corporation. Why not?

Is there a connection between the Minister alluding to a corporation back in 2017 but not naming that corporate entity,  and the fact that Executive Council identifies that there were five owners of the land parcels HopeTown was approved to purchase, despite the fact that the HopeTown application to IRAC identified only one individual as the current owner?

If those 5 people represent officers, directors and/or shareholders in a ‘corporation,’ it would appear a deliberate decision was made to obscure that fact in the application process since EC’s Order approving HopeTown’s application makes no mention of a corporation…just five Asian individuals, three living in PEI, one living in Ontario, and one living in Taiwan.

Minister Thompson says the first application came on January 9, 2020, but there were two of those three applications submitted to IRAC on January 9th, 2020, and one of those two applications was the HopeTown application that was approved on June 9th, 2020.

Minister Thompson suggests that more and more information was required, so the January application was deferred, but just exactly how does any of that line of reasoning explain why a subsequent application was submitted on February 20th for the same 10 parcels?  How are we to make sense out of that submission from Li living in Ontario on February 20th?

Beaton’s final question brought an interesting response from Minister Thompson, especially what he says about rejecting non-residents in compliance with the Lands Protection Act, exclaiming with some bluster that only Island residents are involved in the deal thanks to what he and his government did….yet buddy living in Niagara, Ontario is a Director of HopeTown Development Company Ltd.  So is Li an Islander living in Ontario? Not likely. So why was his being a Director of Hopetown not seen to be a problem? More questions.

The idea that corporations are easier to “track” than individuals is probably the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard and absolutely couldn’t be further from the truth – just look at this situation, or the Brendal Farms Irving land deal that is taking a third- party investigator months to sort out!

For Minister Thompson to be singing the praises of corporate clarity and oversight by his government when we don’t even know who owns this HopeTown corporation the King government just gave approval is a stretch to say the least.

 

SUMMARY

The PC Government approved an application from a corporation with three resident Asian Directors and one Asian Director from Ontario, an individual who tried to purchase these same 10 parcels by himself and was denied by Executive Council.

The three Orders issued by Executive Council on June 9, 2020 all pertain to these new applications…there is no reference whatsoever to undoing something leftover from the Liberal era. There is no documentary evidence that I can find to suggest there was anything “retroactive” about any of these three applications: they appear to have followed the same process as all individuals and/or corporations submitting applications to IRAC to purchase and/or lease land.

Who is behind all of this? We simply don’t know: the names of the owners (shareholders) have not been disclosed to the public through the extra-provincial incorporation through the federal government.

This matter represents another very serious land issue.  Many Islanders are hoping MLA Michele Beaton continues to ask questions until answers that make sense are forthcoming.

Those four directors of HopeTown explicitly sought (as indicated on the application form submitted to IRAC) to develop agricultural land and Executive Council granted HopeTown that approval.  However, that approval came with an important “condition”: that the land must remain in agriculture.

Will this government ensure Islanders that EC’s decision to impose that condition in an Approval Order unequivocally means that Government will not subsequently remove this condition and allow development?

That’s what Islanders are waiting to hear from Government.

 

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