As the critic for local government I attended the Association of Kootenay & Boundary Local Governments conference in Creston last week. Given that I was already up there, I thought that with my colleague Michelle Mungall, MLA for Nelson-Creston as guide, this suburban girl could learn a thing or two about how Bill 24 proposes to change the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and the role of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). I have always believed that the best way to understand the implications of any policy change is to talk to those who will be most impacted by the proposal. With Michelle’s help, we visited three completely different farms and I had a chance to ask each farmer what the implications of Bill 24 would mean for them.
First a bit of background. The ALR was founded in 1973 under the BCNDP government led by Dave Barrett. It puts some of BC’s limited farmable land under one zone to protect its value for growing our food. For forty years, the ALR with its independent governing body, the Agricultural Land Commission, has proven itself good policy, and many of its staunchest critics are now its staunchest supporters.
Bill 24, the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, was introduced in the Legislature a few weeks ago and will be up for debate when the Assembly resumes April 28. This Bill makes sweeping changes to our ALR.
Specifically, it breaks it up into two zones overseen by six government-appointed regional panels. Zone 1 is to be considered much in the same was it always was, but Zone 2 is to be managed quite differently. Zone 2 panels would be required to consider “economic, cultural and social values”, “regional and community planning objectives” and “other prescribed conditions” as set out by cabinet. So if the government of the day prioritizes something other than agriculture, like LNG or housing development for example, then the panels must favour that priority above farming. The Creston Valley, like 90% of ALR land, is in Zone 2.
So what did this suburban girl learn from these farmers?
I learned that these farmers are angry and disappointed that the BC Liberals NEVER consulted with them about how these proposed changes will potentially impact their ability to run their operations efficiently.
I learned that it can take a fair bit of land to support 90 milking cows (100 acres for the herd, 800 acres to grow the feed). Farmers don’t usually have that much land so they lease it from others – in this case, 27 others. If Bill 24 goes ahead, these lands can be further subdivided which is likely to result in needing to manage perhaps double the number of landlords – a considerable amount of work for the farmer with costs for the land management being borne by the consumer with increased food prices.
I learned that the Agricultural Land Commission already has the ability to ‘tweak’ boundaries if lands are not considered appropriate for farming.
I learned that some of the greatest supporters for this change comes from those who can make the most money from freeing up these lands for other purposes.
I learned that changes to the ALR and ALC will result in food security issues.
If you share any of these concerns and want your voice to be heard … click here.
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