Government tables changes to close 'loopholes' and increase transparency in land purchases
'We're a very small Island and we're not making anymore land'
The P.E.I. government put forward changes Tuesday to provide more transparency in corporate and land ownership, and said these were the first moves following a promise to close "loopholes" in the legislation that sets limits on how much land corporations can own.
"We're a very small Island and we're not making anymore land," Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson said after announcing public consultations on the issue to be held in the new year.
Thompson tabled one bill to amend the Lands Protection Act and a second to amend the Business Corporations Act, and said more changes would be brought forward following consultations.
An amendment to the Business Corporations Act would reverse a change made under the previous Liberal government which dropped a requirement that corporations submit shareholder names in their annual reports to the province.
Thompson said that requirement would be reinstated and the names of shareholders would once again be made public.
The changes to the Lands Protection Act include measures intended to make it easier to determine whether one or more corporations are controlled by the same person or organization, and thus required to consider their combined land holdings to stay under the corporate land limit of roughly 1,200 hectares.
With allowances for leased and non-arable land, the corporate limit is about 2,300 hectares.
Thompson also said government would put forward another bill, a land ownership transparency act similar to legislation brought forward in B.C., "to build more understanding and integrity into who really owns the land."
Haslemere Farms land purchase under investigation
The changes come following a corporate land sale that went through despite being turned down by the previous Liberal cabinet.
In March, on the eve of an election call, the cabinet of Wade MacLauchlan rejected an application to purchase more than 890 hectares in the area of Summerside and North Bedeque from Brendel Farms Ltd.
The three corporations behind the application all listed members of the Irving family as shareholders or directors.
But in June the land was transferred to another corporation: Haslemere Farms Ltd.
Haslemere Farms changed its name to Red Fox Acres effective Aug. 7. Provincial records list Rebecca Irving as the company's sole director.
On Tuesday Thompson said an investigation he requested from the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission was still underway.
Liberal land critic Robert Henderson commended government on the legislative changes put forward, and said he looks "forward to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission report to clarify what happened" in the Haslemere Farms land purchase, saying that would further inform MLAs on what other legislative changes need to be made.
More P.E.I. news
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Red Fox Acres as Red Fox Farms.Oct 28, 2020 5:56 PM AT