Protecting P.E.I. farmland
STU NEATBY SALTWIRE NETWORK stu.neatby @theguardian.pe.ca @PEIGuardian
An advisory committee established to revamp the province’s Lands Protection Act (LPA) has recommended the province heed 50 years of advice and establish a provincewide land-use plan. The final report of the Land Matters advisory committee, released on July 15, includes 13 recommendations intended to inform an upgrade of the province’s storied LPA, a unique piece of legislation intended to protect P.E.I. farmland. The report notes that there have been many land-use related reports commissioned by the provincial government over a 50-year period, including the 1973 Royal Commission on Land Ownership and Land Use, the 1990 Royal Commission on Land, the 2009 Thompson Report and the often-cited 2013 Carver Report. “Many of the key actions required — such as a provincewide land use plan — are well understood and have been repeatedly recommended since 1973,” wrote the land matters committee. “After many years of study, now is the time for action.” The Dennis King-led Progressive Conservatives government has been promising for two years to implement an upgrade to land legislation in P.E.I., which they have sometimes dubbed Lands Protection 2.0. The act limits individuals to ownership of 1,000 acres and corporations to ownership of 3,000 acres. Some farming and conservation groups have said decisions related to land purchases, which often require approval of cabinet, lack transparency. Other farming organizations, most notably the P.E.I. Potato Board and Cavendish Farms, have argued that the land size limits, first set in 1982, should be increased to maintain financial viability. While several of the committee’s recommendations deal with these hot-button issues, most relate to something P.E.I. has failed to do for decades: plan and zone land for residential, industrial, agricultural and conservation purposes. The report recommends a provincewide land use framework be developed by registered planners, which has widespread support among farming organizations. “Development pressures related to P.E.I.’s impressive population and economic growth mean that land use planning is all the more important,” the report said. “Finally, climate change is now a pressing reality, and requires provincewide land use planning to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions, and to mitigate and adapt to its impacts.” Land-use planning will take time, resources and political commitment. The report recommended that, in the interim, regulations provincial regulations be established governing subdivision planning in areas without an official plan. The committee also recommended reintegrating the municipal affairs division, within the Department of Fisheries and Communities, into the Department of Agriculture and Land to reduce government silos. The report also recommended the land size limits of 1,000 acres for individuals and 3,000 acres for corporations be maintained, but that the LPA be amended to better define “control” of corporations. The committee also recommended strengthening the definition of “principal residence” of individuals deemed to be living on P.E.I. The report recommended the role of the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission in land investigations be strengthened, with random land audits becoming a yearly fixture. Finally, the committee recommended the name of the Lands Protection Act be altered to the Land Ownership Act so that it “accurately reflects its stated purpose.” Changes to both the province’s Planning Act and the Lands Protection Act are expected to be introduced in the fall session of the P.E.I. legislature.