Game-changer? Ministry’s response commits to protect only most productive farmland

On January 20, 2014, British Columbia Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm responded to my November 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 the most 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, “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 October 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 Budget 2013.

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 BC 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 & 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 BC 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 BC 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.

 

Response from Minister of Agricultural Pat Pimm

Response received via email on January 20, 2014.

Adam Olsen
Interim Leader
BC Green Party

Dear Mr. Olsen:

Thank you for your recent letter to the Honourable Christy Clark, Premier on the Core Review of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). As Minister of Agriculture, I am pleased to respond.

Please be assured that I recognize and acknowledge the importance of the ALR to British Columbians and be assured that participation in the Core Review process will not undermine the core mandate of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) which is to protect the province’s most productive farmland. Changes that may result from Core Review will not be introduced until the appropriate level of discussion has been had with local governments, the agri-foods industry, and other key stakeholders. That said, I do believe that further modernization of the ALC would be beneficial and I expect that the Core Review process will lead to further improvements in ALC operations and decision making.

To your specific recommendations, I can confirm that:

1) The ALC review is taking place within the Core Review process;

2) The ALC has begun the process of reviewing ALR boundaries in some regions, as permitted by the Agricultural Land Commission Act (Commission may initiate inclusion and exclusion applications), and could potentially recommence this process once the Core Review is over;

3) The ALC has recently received a significant increase in its budget and legislative authority to enable it, amongst other things, to increase its compliance and enforcement activities; and,

4) Discussions on any significant changes will be held with key stakeholders prior to the introduction of any such changes.

Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts with me, I trust this information is helpful in clarifying the focus of our Core Review of the ALC.

Sincerely,

Pat Pimm
Minister of Agriculture
cc: Honourable Christy Clark
Premier of British Columbia

Adam Olsen

Stellys Cross Road, Brentwood Bay, BC, V8M 1J7