Region 1-District 1 | Opinion

Op Ed: PEI Government and Irving Work Hard To Keep Islanders in the Dark

By Edith Ling

Those who have nothing to hide do not fear the light. Ethical people welcome transparency in their dealings and actions. They don’t hide behind the veil of privacy to cover the ways they manipulate laws for their own gain. They don’t hide behind the pretence that their secrecy is necessary for reasons of fair competition as a way to cover their own disregard for the good of all citizens and society. They certainly do not expect the Government of a people to betray their citizenry to keep wrong-doing buried!

Is this not happening in Prince Edward Island as the involved parties work to keep the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) report of the Brendel (Red Fox Acres Limited) sale hidden? In an age of eroding privacy for the majority, Government is allowing “privacy” to be used as a tool to keep Islanders ignorant about how the Irving family (they are not alone) have circumvented the PEI Lands Protection Act to acquire land holdings well beyond the legal limits allowed by the Act – the very thing the Act was created to prevent — land coming under corporate and foreign control. This corporate “right to privacy” hides from Islanders the extent of corporate control, wealth, and entitlement.

Current and past governments have failed to interpret the “letter of the law” to ensure that the spirit and intent of the law was and is being upheld. Is not privacy being used to prevent awareness that Islanders have been failed — and yes, betrayed — by the public people they employed over the last several decades to protect their greatest asset, the land? Suspicious land deals have been identified by numerous players. As more of these deals become apparent, the harder it is to get honest information from Government about those deals. It is widely known that Geoff Connolly, a partner in the firm of Stewart McKelvey, used the Business Corporations Act to circumvent the Lands Protection Act, which resulted in Irvings being able to buy 2200 acres of land in Bedeque and surrounding areas (the Brendel Farms, Red Fox Acres sale). Is it not a conflict of interest when the same law firm is engaged by the Province? The current Chairman and CEO of IRAC is a former senior partner with Stewart McKelvey. Is he an appropriate person to oversee an investigation into this matter? These are questions to which the public deserves answers.

Calls by National Farmers Union officials to Hon. Bloyce Thompson for accountability on this issue go unanswered. Phone calls don’t get returned. Important Government announcements, especially controversial ones, such as the decision not to release the IRAC report, are made on the Government website, often with Friday afternoon timing. More land studies are undertaken, while the recommendations of previous ones are never implemented. Government seems to cower in fear of Irving lawyers and deep corporate pockets.

If Irving, once again, gets away with circumventing the Lands Protection Act, as they have attempted this time with tactics by their lawyers using the Business Corporations Act, they will grow even bolder. In January 2021 they attempted to purchase another parcel of land, which IRAC thankfully rejected. No doubt lawyers are burning the midnight oil to make that land deal happen although rejected by IRAC– as was done with the Brendel Farms deal. There are already whispers in the farming community that farmers have been warned not to try to buy that land.

It is becoming far more difficult for government to maintain their claim that the Lands Protection Act is a priority, and that our primary resource is being protected for the people. It is getting more difficult to keep people unaware of wrongdoing, and that justice is not being served.

Elected officials are accountable to the citizens of Prince Edward Island. Civil servants need to be as well. They must all work for the welfare of the people, not corporations and foreign interests who see our land only as another asset in their corporate portfolio.

The spring session of the Legislature opens on February 25th. In a CBC Compass interview with host Louise Martin, House Leader Sidney MacEwen, indicated land and water issues will be dealt with in the coming sitting. Will they be dealt with in a substantial manner that finally recognizes the authority of the Lands Protection Act? Will Government act like a Government in control, able and willing to implement the will of the people upon which it was elected when it comes to the land? Will it make the hard ethical and moral decisions? Will Peter Bevan-Baker stand as true opposition in defence of our land or will the Green Party remain silent? Will the Liberals remain silent so their past actions on the land remain under the radar? Political apathy and compliance with the wishes of corporations is not acceptable in our governing body.

The philosopher and British Member of Parliament, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.” These words will never become outdated. We are expecting our Island politicians to dig up and expose the dirt on land deals so it can be made transparent, then cleansed and purified with the light. That’s what they promised and this is what they owe Islanders.

Edith Ling lives on a farm in North Winsloe and is the NFU Women’s District Director for Prince Edward Island