New rules are alarmingly open to interpretation and political interference
The provincial government has made changes to the Agricultural Land Commission, including allowing “value-added farming activities” on farmland that some critics fear could turn into industrial changes like this oil rig and an oil pump jack on a farm in rural North Dakota. (REUTERS)
Columnists Laila Yuile and Brent Stafford battle over the issues of the day. The winner of last week’s duel on the port strike was Laila with 79%.
This week’s topic:
Are changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve good for British Columbia?
Despite the vast size of this amazing country, many would be surprised to learn that approximately 94% of all land across Canada is not suitable for any kind of farming. In fact, the small percentage that is suitable for agricultural use has been steadily shrinking for decades.
Even with the protection of the Agricultural Land Reserve here in B.C. that land is under threat from developers eagerly waiting for a chance to snap it up.
Last week, in a move that was condemned by the opposition along with some farmers and agricultural advocates across the province, the BC Liberal government introduced changes to the mandate of the Agricultural Land Commission that could lead to a permanent loss of farmland. Not only do the changes open the door for potential urban development on ALR land, but with it the potential for industrial or resource use as well.
The changes split the ALR into two zones — Zone 1 is comprised of the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan, while Zone 2 covers the rest of the province, and nearly 90% of the land in the ALR. While the government claims little will change in Zone 1, the amendment act greatly relaxes the rules in Zone 2, in a manner alarmingly open to interpretation.
Another concern in the legislation was pointed out by independent MLA Vicki Huntington last week, which is a change to the makeup of the ALC board. The amendments would allow the government to appoint six new members without any consultation of the chair of the board, which is a current requirement to ensure the hiring is based on merit, not political patronage.
It’s understandable some ALR land owners want to use their land for other purposes, but the reserve and commission were created to protect a rare commodity in this province and need to be enhanced, not stripped. These changes aren’t good for B.C. There are other ways to support farmers to allow them to make a better living — tax credits, flexible farm-use policies and incentives are a few options to be considered.
In an email last week, Huntington wrote, “I encourage British Columbians to oppose these changes, which were made without public consultation or mention during the previous election. This government wants to steamroll the ALR, remove its independence, and undermine its mandate.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Laila Yuile is an independent writer, blogger and political commentator. You can read her blog at lailayuile.com.
Who wins this week's duel on changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve for BC?