The B.C. Liberal government has fired the chair and CEO of the Agricultural Land Commission.
The move comes as B.C. Hydro is preparing to flood more than 12,500 hectares of farmland in the Peace River Valley as part of the $8.8-billion Site C dam project.
Richard Bullock, a Kelowna agriculturalist and former president of the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association, has been replaced as chair by former Saanich mayor Frank Leonard.
B.C. NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham condemned the move, calling Bullock "an effective advocate for the protection of farmland in British Columbia".
"By firing him the B.C. Liberals are cointinuing their war on B.C.'s agricultural land," she said in a statement.
The Agricultural Land Commission has a mandate to preserve agricultural land, encourage farming, and encourage local governments, First Nations, and the government and its agents to accommodate farm uses in their planning processes.
There are more than 4.7 million hectares in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Leonard was manager of Victoria Tire Ltd.'s three Kal Tire stores before serving as the mayor of Saanich from 1996 to 2014. Prior to becoming mayor, he ran as a B.C. Liberal candidate in Saanich South, losing to the NDP's Andrew Petter in 1996.
Popham said that the dismissal of Bullock came at a "critical time" as the B.C. Liberal government is about to release regulations pursuand to the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, which passed last year.
"By replacing B.C.'s agricultural watchdog with someone with no background in agriculture, the B.C. Liberals are making it clear that their attack on the ALR has only just begun," she claimed.
In the meantime, Premier Christy Clark is planning to build a new bridge to replace the three-lane George Massey Tunnel. A government video suggests it could have 10 lanes, which could intensify pressure to convert farmland south of the Fraser River into housing.
But the biggest threat to B.C. farmland remains the Site C dam. Agrologist Wendy Holm has claimed that the soil quality and climate in this area could produce enough vegetables to feed a million people.
The NDP has maintained that it will not support the Site C dam unless it's subjected to a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission.