Friday, 29 November 2013

Carver Report on Land Ownership: A Good Job

It will disappoint some, but the Carver report has a lot of common sense,  is inspired in places, and should be easy for the government to support.  He drew a line in the red soil right at the beginning:

 "In the end, is this not the primary question: “What’s best for the land?”"

This will sound quaint to many, but in a Canada where resource exploitation, and deferring to corporate interests has become standard operating procedure, this is refreshing (and for some right). I can certainly hear echos of the late Angus MacLean, a former neighbour of mine, and Carver's old boss.

Now it may be easy for a well established lawyer with a government pension (and me) to  argue that trying to preserve what's left of  the top ten inches of soil is more important than the economic imperatives of bigger and cheaper at all costs, but  Carver asked many times  during the hearings: Where's the evidence that bigger farms improve the bottom line?   He says he never heard it. The evidence he did see is that soil health (measured by the percentage of organic matter) is getting worse:

"... the evidence shows that as farms have gotten bigger, soil quality has generally declined. This is a
most serious situation."
 Carver isn't ignoring the financial pressures facing farmers, or the economic logic of growing more with the capital and equipment on hand,  but argues improving soil quality (preventing erosion, raising organic levels) will increase yields and quality and that that's a better way to improve incomes rather than simply producing more.   He cops out a bit saying the province needs new agricultural policies to deal with no changes to  the lands protection act, and maybe (just maybe) starting to enforce crop rotation regulations., but farmers struggling financially wasn't his mandate to begin with. And Carver does (finally) establish the idea that land unsuitable for cropping should NOT be considered part of aggregate land holdings. And just as important there shouldn't be a lot of red tape to establish these lands.  The government will have to decide if buffer zones are part of this mix given that some farmers have lost a lot of land around waterways. And getting the leased in, leased out provisions to make more sense is an improvement too.
Perhaps the most important thing Carver did was to establish a series of values that should govern the act, the spirit of the regulations so to speak. It was an exercise to get the Federation of Agriculture and the National Farmers Union to agree on the way forward. They got close, but in the end still had differences, but these values brought them as close as they've been in decades. 

Farm organizations and the Commission
believe it is important to present these shared
values to government and to all Islanders to
let them know where these two farm
organizations stand in agreement:
The land is a public trust and, because of
this, all Islanders have an interest in its
The water, the soil and the air are also
public trusts, and all who own land have a
responsibility to protect them;
The stated purpose of the
Protection Act
is still relevant today, and
there is a continuing need for this type of
Some form of government-supported land
banking system is needed to enable more
individuals to get into farming;
Environmentally-sensitive lands ought not
to be farmed, and they must be excluded
from the aggregate land limits under the
Lands Protection Act
Farmers must be encouraged to adopt
better crop rotation practices, through
technical and financial assistance and
better enforcement of the
Crop Rotation Act
New ideas are needed to deal with the
difficult succession issues which farmers
and farm corporations routinely
The rural vistas and viewscapes which
Islanders and visitors enjoy must be
protected and preserved;
Large-scale purchase of land, also known
as ‘land grabbing’, would be harmful to
the interests of Prince Edward Island and
must be guarded against; and
Farmers need to educate non-farmers on
why farming is essential to our everyday
lives and to life itself.

It's certainly not surprising that Horace Carver wants to maintain the Act. He played such an essential role in the early 1980's to keep property rights out of the Canadian constitution to give PEI the legislative ability to do this. He wasn't going to squander that legacy, and the Ghiz Liberals knew this when they appointed him.  
Carver's report did get front page treatment in the Guardian, but was virtually ignored by the CBC which is disappointing. I would have argued  if I were still there (and no doubt lost) that this Act makes PEI a complete outlier in Canada, going completely against the political and economic forces at play in the country. Whether this is the right thing to do would have made for an interesting discussion, but we'll never hear it.  Too bad.

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