Expropriation. Day 207 of the Cornwall Bypass project….

Green Gables PEI

I have been scared lately for the people who will be impacted by the Cornwall bypass project and the lack of pro-activity they might take to secure their equitable outcome. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard: the government will do what it’ll do, or something to that effect. People seem to forget that they can directly affect their outcome should they be willing to work toward it, and now is the time.

Anyone reading my ramblings regarding the PEI government building a road which bulldozes my home and organization— surely knows me (I’m not that popular), but I’m not sure if these people are aware that my family has a long history with expropriation. I often hear about how unfair expropriation is — this seems to be based more on the shock which comes with the realization that government can in fact take your land (with appropriate compensation) without your consent, in an effort to advance “the public good” than it is over any real understanding of expropriation itself.

My grandmother on my father’s side (Pauline Jones, nee Webb) was born and raised in Cavendish PEI — home, as many are aware, of Green Gables.

What people forget is that Green Gables of the famed Anne of Green Gables books written by L.M. Montgomery was once simply a typical PEI farm. My grandmother’s, great-grandmother’s and great-great aunt’s family farm, to be exact, until the government expropriated it for the “public good” in 1937. In fact, most if not all of our National Parks in PEI were originally privately owned and thus expropriated in order to create the National Parks as we know them today. It was quite the “hot topic” at the time.

My great-grandparents (Myrtle Webb nee McNeill and Ernest Webb) were paid $6500 for their farm and kept on initially as caretakers with a guaranteed income “for life”. Until the popularity of the location was too great of an influence for PEI and they were forced to move from the home Myrtle had inherited from her aunt and uncle who had raised her and Parks Canada moved in.

So many years down the line I’m not telling you this story because I hold any resentment — that has been washed away throughout the generations. It’s because of the preservation Parks Canada has done of the site I can still visit a piece of my heritage and that is something to be grateful for. So, over the long term it was most likely a good thing for our family. In the short term and at the time however, I wonder how L.M. would have felt knowing as a direct result of the book that she wrote which idealized a place she loved so much, that it had indeed been torn away from one of her dearest cousins and closest friends…

But I digress!

Expropriation and its potential have been known in my family for generations. It wasn’t a new word or concept I had to consider when we learned of the road and it’s potential implications. In fact it was a direct result of this family history which led us to seek appropriate advice in the face of what was to come.

When the government decides to build a public work, despite what you might think, they do not jump right to expropriating your land — the right for the government to expropriate exists if after following due process an agreement cannot be reached between the two parties.

In fact, despite what current Minister statements might lead you to believe the government, typically, does not want to expropriate — they would much rather negotiate an equitable settlement.

Why?

Because expropriation makes them look bad (politically), is expensive, legally cumbersome, and can set back infrastructure construction plans. The Act doesn’t simply exist to allow government to “take your land” it exists to protect you during the taking which should only be in the support of the “public good” and ensures you equitable compensation.

That said, friends, if you are in a position where you could potentially be expropriated you need to be pro-active and not passive.

The government announced a project which would have very real repercussions for my home, land and business in late June of 2016. We took immediate action, researching the reality of the project — and looking at what a variety of options could mean for our property and our clients.

You need to do this too.

Any expropriating body after a fair outcome for all should encourage you to seek third party information so that you might be in a position to properly assess your particular and individual situation. Despite government policies no two land deals are created equally.

Some of these (not all) third parties include:

  1. A lawyer; well versed in expropriation law, who can help you decipher the legal gobbledegook and get to the point of what this particular expropriation means for you. This person can also negotiate on your behalf, so make sure you trust them.
  2. A certified property\real-estate appraiser. This is not a real estate agent. This is an individual who understands expropriation and land valuation and should it come to it will testify in court on your behalf as to what you are entitled to.
  3. An accountant. If you have a business, not-for-profit organization or the land is a personal investment, get the numbers to back your claim and make a realistic offer to the government based on fact vs sentiment.

More often than not professional fees are included in your settlement. This means the person being expropriated passes the reasonable costs incurred to defend their interest on to the government.

There are a few things to remember here:

A. You are not going to get rich. The government is responsible to the tax payers (as they should be) — your land sale will be public record and something they may have to defend in the public eye. You should be fairly and equitably compensated — after all, you are sacrificing your land for the “greater public good”, but don’t get greedy, get smart. Know the value of your land — gather the evidence to back it up and accept it.

B. It takes time. I work with kids and horses — I’m a relatively patient person, but this? Damn. This is testing my patience and my nerves. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to think logistically and not reactionarily. Because you’ll want to react, all the time. Keep your powder dry, was some advice given to me, until you need it.

C. You have rights. Do not allow yourself to be bullied or forced into a position. Assemble a team you trust and then consult with them prior to agreeing or signing anything.

D. It is in the government’s best interest to negotiate with you and it is in your best interest to be informed when that comes about.

E. The PEI Expropriation Act is available (as are all of the Acts) online.

F. There is significant reading to be done on expropriation in Canada — which will help you understand the PEI Act and how it applies specifically to you. A great start is the Patterson Law Expropriation Blog — but keep digging especially into Canadian cases, there is plenty to be learned.

When we started this process, we were armed with what had happened historically for our family. We took a pragmatic perspective and are open to the prospect of change, within reason.

No one will ever be able to fully compensate you for the emotional toll taken, I’m going to have to watch something my family and I built together be torn down before it’s 10 years old — I get it. That said, it’s more important to see HJC, the kids, the horses, the clients move to a new facility where we can continue to make an impact — than it is to remain in this particular facility.

A house is a place, nothing more. It’s the people that make it a home and I for one just want to see my home have the chance to continue.

We still don’t have an agreement with the government yet — if we get the deal we need to continue, I know it will be a direct result of the time and energy we put forth throughout this seemingly unending process. If we don’t?

Well, it won’t have been for lack of trying.