News April 2019

‘Hot potato’ with ‘oily’ feel on Canada’s Prince Edward Island

Earlier this week The Guardian newspaper on Prince Edward Island in Canada published the following Editorial on the relationship between Islanders and oil company J.D Irving Limited, owner of Cavendish Farms, producer of processing potatoes on the Island.

Our love-hate relationship with the Irvings and Cavendish Farms has become a bit more complicated. At issue is the proposed sale of 2,200 acres of farmland by Brendel Farms to three incorporated farming businesses – Long River Farms, Indian River Farms and Galloway Farms.

Sounds reasonable, at least until you have a closer look. As it turns out, the three recently incorporated businesses and potential buyers had Irving family members identified as company presidents or directors.

The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission reviewed the proposal and made a recommendation to government. The province’s executive cabinet quashed the sale on March 26.

The co-owner of Brendel Farms – Derrick Gardiner – believes the move to reject the sale was politically motivated, especially since the Liberals called the election later that day.

This was denied by Communities, Land and Environment Minister Richard Brown, who added that IRAC was following the land ownership limits set out in the Lands Protection Act.

Brown further explained that the “beneficial owners are one family, basically.”

In the fall, Robert Irving, president of Cavendish Farms (owned by J.D. Irving Limited), appeared before a provincial committee calling on the government to increase land ownership limits. The company is dealing with an inadequate supply of potatoes from farms that supply Cavendish Farms.

The extent of this shortfall required the company to import 20 million pounds of potatoes due to poor weather conditions. Another 100 million pounds was expected to be imported as well.

In addition to the moratorium on high-capacity wells, the Irvings are increasingly reminding us that business conditions on the Island are not good enough. A stark reminder was the decision of put 40 people out of work by closing the O’Leary processing plant.

It’s a tricky situation.

We don’t want to be caught up in game of chicken with the Irvings.

Cavendish Farms is one of the largest (if not the largest) private-sector employers in the province, providing fair wages to Islanders.

Always hanging over us is the possibility, however realistic that may be, that they pack up and move somewhere else. If that did happen, the impact on the economy would be substantial.

That being said, the Irvings aren’t the “big bad wolf” that some Islanders make them out to be.

They’re like any business. They seek competitive advantages and are motivated by profits.

And, the province needs to work with, as with all businesses, to help them succeed.

But the province was also right to push back and follow IRAC’s recommendation and quash the deal.

Rules are in place for a reason. As an island, we have limited space and resources. The rules have to be fair for everyone. There has to be enough land for everyone to use and make a living.

We only have one island. And it’s up to government to preserve and protect it for future generations and not give in to big business.

Original report in The Guardian newspaper here. Pictured above: Robert Irving, president of Cavendish Farms – Katherine Hunt