The government of B.C. has introduced Bill 24, the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) Amendment Act. Despite the lack of formal public consultation, we have an opportunity to make our voices heard before this Bill gets passed.
Changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) have been nervously anticipated since last July when Hon. Bill Bennett, the Minister responsible for the core review, braced British Columbians for change. Now the Bill is on the table we see the changes are substantive, and in my opinion are not in the interests of our food security.
I am profoundly disappointed that Minister Bennett did not meet the commitments that he and MLA Dan Ashton (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister Responsible for the core review) made last fall to provide ample opportunity for public give input on the proposed changes to the ALC.
In a presentation to the Finance and Government Services Committee last October, I outlined my concern that the government had not properly consulted British Columbians and that they had no mandate to proceed. Here is what Vaughn Palmer wrote about my visit,
"Meanwhile, the committee was also prepared to listen and incorporate any feedback into its report as well. So Olsen was free to "put the input." Which the Green leader proceeded to do, making the point that people concerned about the future of agricultural land were entitled to a proper consultation, not a rushed exercise in ad hockery: "The discussion about agriculture is far too important and complex, and this accelerated process is clearly insufficient."
The proposed changes deserve a full public engagement process and the fact that Minister Bennett has failed to deliver on the promise is unacceptable. Despite their guarantee to engage key stakeholders and the public, the BC Liberals have done nothing to earn the social licence they need to make these changes to the ALC. Bill 24 risks undoing 40 years of farmland protection, and it threatens British Columbia's important legacy of protecting land for food production.
Bill 24 will be debated thoroughly in the coming weeks and once it hits the floor of the legislature it is likely dominate the news.
I call on the BC Government to delay consideration of Bill 24 (the ALC Amendment Act) until such time that a robust and comprehensive public consultation is completed.
Here is how you can make a difference! Write letters to the editor, and your MLA, call the talk shows and please sign this petition.
ISSUES TO WATCH
1. Two Zones
• Bill 24 splits the ALR into two zones. In Zone 1 (Okanagan, Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island) the lands are largely protected, but in Zone 2 (Everywhere else in the province) becomes the Wild West.
• Now, for Zone 2 applications for exclusion and non-farm uses, in addition to considering agricultural values, the commissioner now must consider s. 4.3 which expands the deliberation to include economic, cultural social values, community and regional planning objectives and "other prescribed conditions."
• In the past, Zone 1 land has been traded for land added in Zone 2 areas. This was done to ensure exclusions in Zone 1 didn't equate to a "net loss" of farmland. The swaps have been controversial, but since there is no longer equal protection for ALR land, no matter where it was in the Province.
2. Six Regions and the appointment of Chairs
• s.5 empowers the government, in addition to appointing the commission's chair, to appoint the six regional chairs, each having all the powers of the commission to make decisions within the region. (Due to many recent appointments public confidence in the "merit based" process is low. Will the new appointments with be made with the same "merit based" approach as those previous appointments?)
• The ALR was set up to protect the provincial interest in food security so the powers granted the regional panels in s. 11(9) should be carefully scrutinized. Giving the panels all the powers and functions of the commission diminishes the ability of the commission to protect the provincial interest of the ALR for the short, medium and long term.
3. Reviewing past decisions under the new rules
• Amending s. 33(1)(a) by adding (ii) is a subtle but significant change. Remember the rodeo application in Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm's riding, the application was turned down, then he went to bat for it, well this gives the power of the chair or the regional chair to reconsider the decision if the commission did not apply the considerations outlined in the new s. 4.3.
• The commission now has the ability to back to previous decisions that were correctly made based on the rules of the day and reconsider the applications based on the new rules established in s. 4.3