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MLA defends ALC changes

Farmland: Shuswap MLA says changes will encourage family farms in the province. - James Murray/Observer
Farmland: Shuswap MLA says changes will encourage family farms in the province.
— image credit: James Murray/Observer

Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo fully supports the Liberal government’s controversial Bill 24, which divides the Agricultural Land Reserve into two zones.

Kyllo was one of 44 MLAs who voted for the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, which passed in a 44-31 vote on Thursday, June 3 in the B.C. Legislature, after the Liberals shut down debate.

The bill eases restrictions on secondary uses of farmland in the North, Kootenay and Interior zones, now Zone 2.

Zone 1, made up of Vancouver Island, South Coast and Okanagan, retains the intent of the original ALR, created in 1973.

The bill also changes the Agricultural Land Commission by formalizing the six regional ALC panels to make decisions on exclusions and permitted uses.

Minister of Agriculture, Norm Letnick, states on the B.C. government website that amendments will give the ALC chair more flexibility in referring applications to the ALC’s executive committee, made up of the chair and six regional vice chairs, for decisions.

“Giving the chair the ability to refer decisions to the ALC executive committee is one more step in ensuring B.C.’s farmland is preserved. The chair could use it when they believe the application could have substantial impact such as inter-regional significance or major land or large infrastructure considerations, or be types of activities that have not been previously considered,” writes Letnick, who took over as minister in April from MLA Pat Pimm, who is ill.

Critics, including some members of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s Grow Shuswap agricultural committee, see the bill as a way to free up land for development, particularly for fracking for liquid natural gas.

Kyllo sees no downside to the bill and maintains it will help families keep farming.

“I think it was a pretty conservative approach. The main focus was definitely on protecting the majority of the areas that are responsible for 85 per cent of the food production in B.C.,” he told the Observer, adding that areas which will now be considered for non-agricultural uses provide about 15 per cent of farm-gate sales. He said the amended act would help farming parents who wish to entice their children to farm. They might wish to subdivide one quarter of an acre to house their grown children so they could move back to help.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a real end-run on agricultural land like some of the skeptics are maintaining.”

Prior to the amended act, Salmon Arm, however, was already able to take land out of the ALR, with consideration of soil quality, for such uses as the SmartCentres development.

“If there is some opportunity to make some slight improvements and changes, to help protect farming families which are in areas that currently provide only 15 per cent; we’re making a small adjustment to give both the regional panels and the ALC the chance to take a few other things into consideration,” Kyllo said. “I don’t see that as a real dangerous or challenging step.”

He says the oil and gas commission can currently apply to the ALC for pump stations and, regarding pipelines, he doesn’t see them as a threat.

“Pipelines, for one, are buried. They would be remediated and back into full crop production within a couple of years.”

Overall, Kyllo concludes: “I see this as a small step. When the rubber hits the road, when things start coming forward and applications are being made to the commission, I think everybody will sigh a bit of a sigh of relief.”

Kyllo stresses the independence of the ALC. However, emails have been publicized from MLA Pat Pimm, who was made Minister of Agriculture by Premier Christy Clark following the 2013 election, which show disdain for an independent commission.

In an email written in July 2012 to MLA Bill Bennett and ALC chair Richard Bullock, Pimm writes: “Every time I try to contact Mr. Bulluch (sic) I am told that he is an arm’s length body and for me to get the hell out of his hair. Who the hell is running our Province anyways?”

Kyllo said he hasn’t read the emails in their entirety, and thinks it’s important the ALC maintains independence from government.

 

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