- Our Town
ALR changes a concern
Shuswap agricultural advocates argue proposed changes to how the province manages farmland have little to do with helping the people who work it.
On March 27, the B.C. government announced how it would be improving the Agriculture Land Commission, the independent body tasked with protecting farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve. The changes were the result of a cabinet “core review” headed by Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett. A news release states the changes will “protect farmland and maintain the ALC’s independence.”
But John McLeod, retired farmer and president of the Shuswap Food Action Co-op, has a different take on the recommended changes, which, in summary, he refers to with a pejorative term approximating “bull fertilizer.”
“When Christy Clark won the last election, there wasn’t one word about doing a core review on the agricultural land reserve or commission – she has no mandate to do this,” says McLeod, who believes the key changes in the amendment are to accommodate the Premier’s mandate to get liquid natural gas flowing – even from agricultural land.
“They don’t have a plan (for agriculture),” said McLeod. “What they have is a plan to go and frack.”
With Bill 24, the B.C. government will be dividing the ALR into two zones, Zone 1 covering everything from the Okanagan to the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, and Zone 2, which takes in the rest of the province. Another major change is that applications for exclusion or subdivision from/on ALR land, normally overseen by the entire ALC, will now go before one of six respective regional panels – Interior, Island, Kootenay, North, Okanagan and South Coast.
While Zone 1 panels are tasked to uphold the traditional mandate of the ALC – the preservation of agricultural land, Zone 2 panels must also consider what the province refers to as, “economic, cultural and social values;” “regional and community planning objectives;” and “other prescribed considerations.”
This is a concern for Shuswap organic farmer, Crannog Ales co-owner Rebecca Kneen.
“The mandate process and what they call in government speak, ‘measurables,’ are not by the ALC, but by the government, and that is a fairly major shift in policy,” said Kneen. “That’s a fairly major concern because, essentially, it removes the independence of the land commission to act on behalf of the land itself and on behalf of agriculture.”
Another goal of the province is to make agricultural land more viable for farmers in Zone 2, giving the ALC “broader flexibility to consider non-agricultural home-based business.”
Kneen interprets this as helping farmers by giving them an excuse to remove land from the ALR.
Kneen would have shared her thoughts if there had been a public process, but as she and McLeod point out, Bill 24 was announced with no public consultation.
The BC Food Systems Action Network is calling on the province to put aside the bill and start again, this time through a consultation process similar to what the province did with the Water Sustainability Act.