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The National Farmers Union (NFU) is praising the Three Rivers municipal council for its care in dealing with issues relating to the Buddhist communities in the region. In recent days the council voted to refuse a permit to Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (Buddhist nuns) for the building of a residence in Brudenell, eventually to be expanded to hold over 1,000 nuns. It was clear that the centre of concern for many attending the council meeting was far greater than the building permit. There has been an increasing growing anxiety in the surrounding area of Three Rivers, as well as other parts of P.E.I., about what appears to be unregulated land accumulation by foreign interests and corporations, through deliberate disregard for and manipulation of the Lands Protection Act.
For people who may not be aware, the Lands Protection Act was put in place in 1982 by the then Progressive Conservative government of Angus MacLean. It was, and continues to be, a forward thinking piece of legislation of spirit and intent and laws to ensure Islanders retain the right to the ownership and use of their land. It was also to protect Island farmers from direct competition by processors. The act is entrenched in the Canadian Constitution. While Island land has always been a target of outside interests with deep pockets, the NFU believes the act is more relevant than ever now as the worldwide land grab escalates.
The NFU wonders if the Buddhist presence in Southern Kings County might be following some of the same patterns of land ventures in other parts of P.E.I. Two corporations, along with others, cluster together family members to come up with numerous “legitimate” farm corporation, each of which can own 3,000 acres. It is a brazen breaking of both the letter and the spirit of the Lands Protection Act, which decrees that all such off-shoot corporations must be considered as one corporation.
Thus far we know of a number of organizations under the heading of Buddhist. Some of the Buddhist organizations, which come into the conversation in P.E.I. are: Bliss and Wisdom; Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS), the monks with monasteries in Little Sands and Heatherdale; GEBIS Charlottetown, a non-profit organization on Great George Street; Moon Light International Foundation; Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (GWBI), a monastery where nuns study and practise the teachings of Buddha, currently on the Uigg Road, with extensive plans for Brudenell. There is also the Moonlight International Academy, a private boarding school in Little Sands for the teaching of Buddhism especially to teenagers and some preteens.
The long-time residents of Southern Kings, from the first arrivals of the monks, nuns and students, have given the Buddhists an ongoing warm welcome, and have known these new neighbours as peaceful and kind. However, uneasiness entered the picture when people began noticing that farmland and other real estate seemed to be changing hands “small-holding-by-small-holding”.
Yet on all levels, the current government to-date is following in the footsteps of previous governments in its weakness and unwillingness to enforce the spirit, intent and even the letter of the Lands Protection Act. It seems powerless to “follow the money” or to enforce laws related to international money transactions, acquisitions and investments within their jurisdiction.
There are many unanswered questions which the P.E.I. government and IRAC must answer. The Municipality of Three Rivers should not have to be the enforcers of the Lands Protection Act. But how great it is that council listened and understood there are deep-seated issues behind the building permit request. The NFU insists that the responsibility for overseeing the letter, spirit, and intent of Lands Protection Act belongs squarely on the shoulders of the P.E.I. government. It is past time to see action relating to land acquisition in Southern Kings.
Douglas Campbell lives on their family farm in Southwest Lot 16 and is District Director of the National Farmers Union.