11/13/2013 03:10 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:56 EST

B.C. NDP: Liberals Plan To Dismantle Land Reserve, Letter Shows

VANCOUVER - A letter from B.C.'s Agriculture Ministry suggesting the body that regulates provincial farmland put off a boundary review is proof the Liberal government is trying to dismantle the reserve, said NDP Leader Adrian Dix.

The New Democrat leader also said the letter should force the resignation of Agricultural Minister Pat Pimm.

"What we have here is an example that this government policy, that this is the direction they are proceeding, and we have to, as British Columbians, fight back against it," Dix said on Wednesday.

The letter, written by Deputy Agricultural Minister Derek Sturko, asks Agricultural Land Commission Chairman Richard Bullock to defer boundary reviews in the East Kootenays until the province completes its total review of government spending.

"Given the current core review process that is under way, I believe it would be prudent, during the period of the core review of the ALC and (Agricultural Land Review), to defer any ALC decisions that would fundamentally affect the ALR (for instance, inclusions or exclusions of major blocks of land)," Sturko wrote in the letter.

Even though Sturko's letter appears to suggest suspending any commission decisions to adjust reserve land boundaries, Dix says the boundary reviews are meant to go on while the core review is taking place.

Dix said the letter is clearly a stop-work order, and that Pimm should resign for attempting to undermine the land commission.

"The letter is essentially providing instruction to the land commission to stop important work that it's doing, work that the Liberal party campaigned on in the election campaign," he said.

But Pimm disagreed.

"The NDP today are taking the words of a senior bureaucrat and trying to twist them to fit their own political agenda and reach a conclusion not supported by his letter," he said in an emailed statement.

Pimm said the deputy minister was not directing any stoppages, but was simply reminding the ALC that they were part of core review. Pimm said he was extremely disappointed the NDP was ascribing "other motives" to the comments.

Pimm has been in the centre of a political firestorm since cabinet documents leaked to the Globe and Mail indicated he proposed bringing the ALC — the independent agency that manages 4.7 million hectares of land reserved for agriculture — under the control of his ministry.

He also proposed transferring some of the commission's power to authorize industrial activity on agricultural land to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, the Globe and Mail reported.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, who is in charge of the government's core review, has said Pimm's proposal was old and had already been rejected. However, the Liberal government is considering making some minor changes, he said.

Pimm was also recently reprimanded for lobbying for the removal of a parcel of land in Fort St. John so a rodeo and RV campsite can be built — actions that the commission said could be seen as an attempt to politically influence the agency.

"We have a government that has a very nebulous ethical standards," said NDP agriculture critic Nicholas Simons. "What we have here is a situation that is calling for the Premier to take action. The dignity of resignation or authority of the premier should be used to replace (Pimm)."

Developer Terry McLeod owns the Fort St. John land that Pimm was questioning the ALC about.

While the commission rejected his application twice, he recently begun some work on the rodeo project.

McLeod said commission members toured the site, and chair Richard Bullock told him, "There's no law against you moving any dirt around on your own land," McLeod said.

"That's all I did, was move dirt on my own land," he said.

He has erected panels to pen in the animals and mobile bleachers on the site.

Even though the Agricultural Land Commission's mandate is to protect farmland, McLeod said he could barely "get the hay crop off in one year," on his land.

The rodeo project has support from the local community, he said, and he hopes the site would one day see a facility that would seat 3,000 people, with a full-sized chuck wagon racetrack.

Pimm, who is the MLA for Peace River North, has said that his support for the rodeo and campsite application was merely an attempt to advocate for a constituent.

Premier Christy Clark announced on Tuesday that Pimm has written to the province's conflict of interest commissioner for advice about situations where MLAs' duties collide with the Agricultural Land Commission.

Bullock was not available for comment.

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