Preliminary review of P.E.I. land holdings misses the key point, say farmers
'We want to see how much land some of the biggest land holders in this province own'
Farmers got a sneak peek Tuesday at a preliminary report of P.E.I.'s land ownership review, which shows a slight decline in non-residential land ownership — but say they still don't have the answers they're looking for.
The province ordered a review of land ownership last April to determine how much land is owned by non-residents and corporations.
Under P.E.I.'s Lands Protection Act, individuals may own 1,000 acres and corporations 3,000 acres. Those limits have nearly doubled in recent years with allowances for leased land and non-arable land to 1,900 acres for individuals and 5,700 acres for corporations.
Provincial planner Spencer Matheson shared the review's preliminary findings with attendees of a National Farmers Union meeting in North Milton, and Minister of Communities, Land and Environment Richard Brown answered questions.
Doug Campbell, district director for the P.E.I. NFU, says the draft report didn't answer the group's most important question.
"That didn't address the initial land-grabbing issue and the accumulation of large amounts of land by existing corporations," Campbell said.
Campbell said the data presented was "vague" and didn't answer whether some corporations are finding ways to exceed allowable land limits.
"There needs to be a breakdown as to who actually owns what," he said.
A rosy picture
The province reviewed taxation records, the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission, Statistics Canada, a 2010 corporate land use inventory, and more.
A review of taxation data from 2018 shows that 79 per cent of all land in P.E.I. is owned by residents, while 10 per cent is owned by the Crown and 11 per cent by non residents.
The review showed that non-resident land ownership has been declining slightly since 2012. That year it was about 164,000 acres, but has since fallen to about 160,000 acres.
In 2018, non-resident corporations owned about four per cent of P.E.I.'s agricultural land. Most of the land owned by non residents (6.4 per cent) is forested while 3.7 per cent is agricultural.
Non-resident applications rejected
Matheson also told farmers the province has denied more non-resident applications to acquire land in the last few years. Two of 56 applications were denied in 2014, while 20 of 85 applications were rejected in 2018.
The report said non-resident corporate land ownership has remained relatively steady around 60,000 acres, while farms owned by P.E.I. family corporations have been acquiring more land — from just over 300,000 to about 385,000 acres.
More family farms have incorporated their operations in the last decade, the report added, moving away from sole ownership and formal or informal partnerships. And there has been an increase in the amount of agricultural land owned by corporations, most of them Island-owned.
The draft report also showed the amount of farmland on P.E.I. in private ownership has remained relatively stable over the last two decades around 560,648 acres.
Need to dig deeper
But NFU members at the meeting said they want more answers and the final review should take a closer look at which companies own that land and how much is owned by single or financially-linked companies.
"We want to see how much land some of the biggest land holders in this province own," said Edith Ling, women's district director with the NFU.
"There's a lot of corporations that are interlocked and we want to see that.
"We're not talking about the ordinary family farm that incorporates ... we're talking about corporations that are amassing huge amounts of acres and often to the detriment of local farmers," Ling added.
Brown said some information about corporations is protected by privacy laws.
"If it's in the public good and the commissioner agrees, we will look at it," he said, referring to requests to be able to search the province's corporate registry by family name.
Brown said both the department and IRAC have compiled reports, which are now being consolidated. He said both are working to complete the review but did not say when the final report will be released.
"The bottom line is that there's no increase in non-resident ownership of property on Prince Edward Island," he said.
Work is not done, says Brown
Brown said his work to address concerns about land protection will not stop with this report.
"I will be working with both the Federation of Agriculture, the Potato Board and the NFU and just people in the public in general to go deeper into the ownerships of lands that are here on Prince Edward Island right now."
Brown said in the future he plans to work with farming organizations to determine what limits should be applied to corporations purchasing land.
"That's a question we will be asking … where are the limits? Where do you want these corporate limits to be?"
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With files from Sara Fraser