Adam Olsen: How much B.C. farmland will actually be protected?

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Earlier this month, B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm responded to my Nov. 14, 2013 open letter to Premier Christy Clark regarding the core review and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).

The minister's response is troubling. In the second paragraph it states that, "Participation in the Core Review will not undermine the core mandate of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) which is to protect the province's most productive farmland."

The addition of "most productive" to this sentence is a game-changer. By adding these words, the ministry changes the mandate of the ALC, which has never been to protect themost productive farmland.

The purpose of the commission is:

  • To preserve agricultural land;
  • To encourage farming in collaboration with other communities of interest; and
  • To encourage local governments, First Nations, the government and its agents to enable and accommodate farm use of agricultural land and uses compatible with agriculture in their plans, bylaws and policies.

If the government redefines the mandate spelled out above, and protects only the most productive farmland, the ALC will lose its effectiveness altogether. Good farmland can easily lose its productivity just by not building the soil, planting, watering or harvesting anything for a few years.

I agree that "further modernization of the ALC would be beneficial" but the government must not veer off path. As the ALC clearly articulated in their report published Oct. 4, 2013, the modernization process has proven successful over the past three years and the government has invested millions of dollars into the process as recently as the 2013 budget.

It appears in the case of the ALC, this current core review is not about the best interests of agriculture; rather it is about freeing thousands of hectares of agricultural land from the ALC, opening once preserved lands to non-agricultural development opportunities, especially natural gas development.

The rumors that the B.C. Liberals have wanted to change the ALC's mandate have been going since they were first elected. The most recent rumblings surfaced in Mark Hume's article in the Globe and Mail. He outlines a government plan to move the ALC from being an independent body into ministry control and to divide it into two zones.

In the days following Hume's article, the government downplayed those plans and reassured British Columbians that they will not lay waste to the ALC. In addition, the government committed to providing ample opportunity for stakeholders to provide public input into the core review process.

The response to my letter is distressing. The minister has reduced the ALC mandate to include only the most productive farmland and at the same time ample consultation has evolved into a post-game interview. It appears that once the decision has been made, stakeholders will only be consulted on its impact.

The B.C. Liberals view of our economy is dangerously one-dimensional. Damian Gillis' article published by CommonSenseCanadian.ca, highlights a good reason why they would want to quietly separate the farmland in the north, from the farmland in the south.

With thousands of gas wells needed in the coming years just to maintain current levels of production, the government needs to remove the ALC as a potential barrier to natural gas development and expansion.

Agriculture is an important part of the B.C. economy, contributing over $10 billion annually. More importantly it provides food to British Columbians. If the California governor declaring a drought emergency earlier this month is any indication of things to come, we cannot rely so confidently on food imports.

It is incredible how two words completely change the game for today, tomorrow and generations to come.

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Mark
Farming should be done in the interior and outskirts of Vancouver (such as Abbotsford and Chilliwack), and when cheaper, fruits should be imported from states such as California.

The ALC does nothing except to restrict land supply and to tell land owners what to do with their properties. Foreign ownership and a restricted land supply are the main causes of the high cost of buying and renting.

If land owners wish to sell to developers, they should be able to do so. Also, we need to put in place serious restrictions on foreign ownership and force owners to rent out their unoccupied condos.
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