PEI

Premier urged to use aid money to buy potato wart fields, take them out of production

A Liberal MLA wants P.E.I.’s government to use a new contingency fund to buy up all the fields where potato wart has been found in the last 22 years, and take them out of production. The Green Party made a similar suggestion earlier this week.

Liberal MLA adds voice to Greens' push to expropriate fields to address border closure

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King responds to questions in the legislature on Friday. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)

A Liberal MLA wants P.E.I.'s government to use a new contingency fund to buy up all the fields where potato wart has been found in the last 22 years, and take them out of production.

This week's budget included a $15-million contingency fund to help farmers hurt by the November closure of the U.S. border to P.E.I. potato exports. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency ordered the halt in exports, saying American officials were about to close the border themselves if Canada didn't act. 

On Friday, MLA Robert Henderson said the newly announced fund should be used to expropriate the fields where wart has been detected — a total of 33 instances since 2000 — and compensate the owners at prices the land would have fetched before wart was found in the soil.

He aimed this question at Premier Dennis King: "Will you tell your minister to allocate that contingency money to buying the land of the 33 index classified fields where potato wart has been confirmed?"

Premier Dennis King replied that he "would be in the camp that would be supportive" of taking land out of production, but said questions have to be answered before any land is bought to be taken out of production — primarily, whether that would make American and Canadian officials any more likely to let table potatoes from P.E.I. cross the border.

"I want to make sure if we go to these extreme lengths … that our efforts are recognized by CFIA, by [its counterpart] APHIS in the United States," he said. 

The premier went on to take aim at the federal Liberals and Henderson alike, saying he doesn't want to "get into the mess of a dance, of just giving things away like his party did in Ottawa during these negotiations, which have crippled this province." 

Liberal MLA Robert Henderson, himself a former seed potato farmer, is urging the government to use a contingency fund to buy up P.E.I. fields where potato wart has been detected. (Legislature of P.E.I.)

Later in the exchange, Henderson pushed the province to lead a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government and the CFIA for damages associated with handling the potato wart issue, adding: "A number of comments have been made that there's been negligence on this file."

This is the second time this week that opposition parties have urged the government to take the fields in question out of production permanently. 

At the moment, fields where the fungus has been found can be used to grow wart-resistant potato varieties after five years has passed. The CFIA's webpage on the fungus says it can stay dormant in the soil of a field for more than 40 years.

"This province has absolute jurisdiction over land use," Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said on Tuesday. "We can choose to take those fields out of production — obviously compensate the farmers appropriately. "

With files from Kerry Campbell

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