13. Priming Canada Lands’ values

“Since this land was bought and paid for once by the taxpayers of Canada, it should be left for the people of Canada . . . as greenspace for social and environmental reasons.” That applies to the Garden City lands, 136 acres of prime farmland in Richmond Centre, but it was said about Upton Farm, Charlottetown.

Both properties are held by Canada Lands Company, a crown corporation that cleans up federal property such as old military bases and sells it at higher financial and community value. Its “corporate social responsibility” includes “paying careful attention to the environment in all our land dealings.”

Sadly, Canada Lands has set out to sell the Garden City lands and Upton Farm at windfall profit but environmental and community loss.

Twenty months ago, Upton Farm was almost lost. But after Charlottetown council approved development, Upton Farm Preservation Network rallied the citizens.

Too late, said Canada Lands: “You’ve got to understand that we bought this, and we’re a commercial company.”

Upton Farm Preservation said, “What we really need to do is engage the politicians at all three levels of government to come to a common vision and action so the land can be preserved for generations to come.” They stressed Canada Lands’ mandate to optimize financial and community value for local communities.

Canada Lands managed the recent application to remove the Garden City lands from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). Tactics like opinion “surveys” that misled the public have been uncovered for the Agricultural Land Commission.

Oddly, Canada Lands has suggested it can sell the Garden City lands however it wants if the commission rejects the application. Even if legal, that idea shows no sense of responsibility toward Richmond and Canada.

When it entrusted the property to Canada Lands, the federal government intended it to be passed on largely to Richmond. Canada Lands should respect that intent or return the property to the government.

In implementing the Garden City lands agreements, Richmond has shown steadfast goodwill toward Canada Lands and its business partner, the Musqueam Indian Band. The city has gone far beyond its duty to help them. If the application is rejected, it will be their turn to show goodwill.

They could, for example, facilitate Richmond’s right of first refusal to buy the property.

Whichever decision the commission makes, we will still be dealing with Canada Lands, which will have power in either rezoning or renegotiation. Let’s be ready as informed and vocal citizens.

Most urgently, we need politicians at all levels ready to act at once if and when the application is rejected.

We can learn from Charlottetown. The people spoke. City council changed its tune. The premier promised to help save Upton Farm. The member of parliament and federal government joined in.

Canada Lands is now heeding community values and the environment there. The people are now refining a new vision.

Let’s make it happen here.

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