When Lana Popham was appointed as the NDP minister of agriculture last year, it was welcomed by the farming community because of her history of advocacy for this sector.
But in December, long-time supporters of this industry, including retired agrologist Wendy Holm and Richmond councillor Harold Steves, were enraged by the cabinet's decision to complete the Site C hydroelectric dam in northeastern B.C.
"Excluding the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, the Site C dam is the single most blatant transgression of public policy I have witnessed during my 45-year career as a Canadian agrologist," Holm wrote in the Times Colonist.
She also noted: "Site C dam will affect 12,759 hectares (31,538 acres) of land, flooding 6,469 hectares (15,985 acres), 60 per cent (3,816 hectares, or 9,430 acres) of which is prime agricultural land."
Holm pointed out that "3,816 hectares of alluvial soils to be flooded are extremely high capability land (Class 1-3, improved ratings). In the east-west running Peace River Valley’s Class One climate for agriculture, this land has the same cropping capability as the Fraser and Okanagan valleys, with higher crop yields due to longer northern daylight hours."
Steves, a former NDP MLA, has been blasting the Site C decision on his Twitter feed.
The decision to flood farmland was also condemned by the province's most famous environmental advocate, David Suzuki.
Today, the NDP government has tried to make amends by announcing that a nine-member Ministry of Agriculture advisory committee "will provide strategic advice, policy guidance, and recommendations" on how to revitalize the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission.
Both were created by the first NDP government, thanks to a resolution that Steves brought forward to a provincial NDP convention in the late 1960s.
The advisory committee will be chaired by long-time agriculture industry advocate Jennifer Dyson and will include former independent MLA Vicki Huntington, University of Fraser Valley professor Lenore Newman, dairy farmer Chris Kloot, former ALC commissioner Shaundehl Runka (daughter of first ALC general manager Gary Runka), Peace River oilseed farmer Irmi Critcher, Comox Valley and former Richmond agriculture advocate Arzeena Hamir, and former ALC deputy chief executive officer Brian Underhill.
"I am proud and grateful to have attracted British Columbians with the knowledge, expertise, passion and experience that the committee members possess for agriculture," Popham said in a news release. "The ALR and the ALC are incredibly important to the health and economic well-being of our province's future, and making it easier and more efficient for the commission to fulfill its mandate of protecting farmland and encouraging farming is a commitment the B.C. government is delivering on."