11/07/2013 03:24 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 10:53 EST

B.C.'s Agricultural Land Commission could be dismantled

The minister reviewing B.C.'s core operations says the Agricultural Land Commission will not be turned over to politicians or bureaucrats and that it will continue in its mission to protect good farmland, despite indications to the contrary from leaked cabinet documents.

Bill Bennett, B.C.'s minister of energy and mines, was responding to a report in Thursday's Globe and Mail indicating that the ALC would effectively be dismantled, with new powers over land use granted to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.

According to cabinet documents obtained by The Globe, the ALC would move within the Ministry of Agriculture, ending its autonomy, while the Agricultural Land Reserve would be split into two zones — one for the Okanagan, Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island, and another for the rest of the province.

The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is a provincial zone, governed by the ALC, in which agricultural uses are prioritized and non-agricultural uses are controlled. The ALR currently covers approximately 4.7 million hectares.

Bennett, appearing on CBC's The Early Edition, said his review will not alter the central principle that underlies the ALR — "the protection of good farmland and the sustainability of farming and farm families. That’s not at risk in any way.”

“We are far more focused at looking not just the Agricultural Land Commission but all of our Crown agencies, and what we’re looking at is: is there is some duplication or overlap within that organization? Does somebody else do the same thing? Is there a way to improve the service that organization provides to the public?”

Northern land could be released

He said that no final decisions have been made regarding the future of the ALC, but that going forward land-use decisions need to be balanced.

"Take Fort Nelson. It’s a long ways north, and there is very little if any farming or ranching that takes place there, because of the short season and how cold it gets in the winter. But there happens to be a bunch of agricultural land, according to the reserve, that was put there many decades ago," says Bennett.

"The town of Fort Nelson needs land – it needs to expand so that they can accommodate the people who are moving there to work in the natural gas industry," he said.

"Do we say to Fort Nelson, 'No, sorry, you can’t expand – you can’t grow, there’s no way for you to accommodate the people who want to move to Fort Nelson to work in the gas industry,' when we know that that land will likely never be used for agriculture?"

NDP Leader Adrian Dix said that any move to dismantle the ALC would be both bad and unnecessary.

"I don't know why, after all this time and contrary to the word the premier has given, they would be contemplating this reversal. They have been, to some degree, starving the Agricultural Land Commission of resources — but anybody needs to look around British Columbia to see the province has developed enormously."