IRAC delays frustrate P.E.I. MLAs looking for answers about land deal investigation

·3 min read

A P.E.I. MLA is calling the actions of the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission "a slap in the face" to the legislative committee he's on.

Cory Deagle, chair of the standing committee on natural resources and environmental sustainability, says the committee has been trying to get IRAC to appear to discuss a controversial land transaction since last September.

The commission has not refused, but in correspondence provided to the committee in December, a representative wrote that its "calendar is full until March."

The delays are "frustrating" and "disrespectful" in Deagle's view.

"If the committee asks them to appear, they should appear," he said during a meeting of the standing committee Thursday.

"I think we all understand that people are busy, but five to six months later is a slap in the face to us."

IRAC 'surprised and disappointed'

The legislative committee, which has the power to subpoena witnesses, reached out in mid-September asking the commission to appear to discuss the investigation it had carried out on a controversial land transaction.

In 2019 a company called Haslemere Farms (later renamed Red Fox Acres) became the owner of 2,200 acres of land in the area of Summerside and North Bedeque that had belonged to a family-owned farming operation — Brendel Farms.

IRAC investigated the transaction at the request of the provincial minister of agriculture and land.

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

The commission raised concerns about being called to appear before the committee because the findings of that investigation have not been made public.

The committee agreed, but sent a second request asking the commission to appear to "provide a briefing on the process of how investigations are conducted in general."

In an emailed statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for IRAC wrote that the commission is both "surprised and disappointed" by comments made at Thursday's meeting.

The email says IRAC has various time-sensitive applications that must be determined, and appeal hearings that are already scheduled, in January and February.

The statement reads: "Finding a date that is without conflicts for both the committee and the commission is a challenge. However, the commission has no doubt that the professionals working on scheduling will be able to find a date that is suitable for both the commission and the committee."

'Find time in their schedule'

In an interview with CBC News, Deagle responded to the statement by IRAC saying, "I think my suggestion to IRAC would be that perhaps they can take our requests a little more seriously … I would suggest that they find time in their schedule to appear at our committee sooner rather than later."

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

Lynne Lund, who is a Green Party MLA on the committee, is equally frustrated with the commission, calling the delays "unacceptable."

Lund said she wants to remind IRAC that dealing with the committee is not optional.

"I think it's unacceptable to have our first request for information in September and now we're being told that the earliest availability is the end of March," Lund said during the legislative standing committee.

"I think it's definitely time to use stronger language in our follow-ups."

Report still not public

Minister of Agriculture and Land Bloyce Thompson said this fall that he could potentially release the report after it's been reviewed by P.E.I.'s privacy commissioner. As of the first week of January 2021, the report has not been released.

Brian Higgins/CBC
Brian Higgins/CBC

Deagle has not ruled out calling other witnesses, including the agriculture minister. He said that will be up to the committee.

He said he hopes IRAC will now appear, but he is not ruling out taking other measures up to and including compelling representatives to do so.

Deagle said he wants to remind IRAC that it is a public body, accountable to the P.E.I. legislature.

"I guess 'frustrated' would be perhaps an understatement," he said.

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