BY BILL PHILLIPS
The provincial Liberal government massive changes to the Agricultural Land Commission and Agricultural Land Reserve are likely going to be reversed by the current NDP government.
Or, at the very least, the new government is going to take a close look at the Liberal changes.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, who vehemently opposed the changes when the Liberals were making them, yesterday appointed a committee that will "lead the revitalization" of the the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). The committee will start with a consultation process across the province.
“I am proud and grateful to have attracted British Columbians with the knowledge, expertise, passion and experience that the committee members possess for agriculture,” said Popham, in a press release. “The ALR and the ALC are incredibly important to the health and economic well-being of our province’s future, and making it easier and more efficient for the commission to fulfill its mandate of protecting farmland and encouraging farming is a commitment the B.C. government is delivering on.”
The Liberal changes saw the province split into two agricultural zones. Prime farmland in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and Okanagan saw little change, but farmland in much of B.C.'s Interior saw restrictions loosened to allow for more non-farming activities like oil and gas development.
The nine-member Minister of Agriculture’s advisory committee will provide strategic advice, policy guidance, and recommendations on how to help revitalize the ALR and ALC to ensure the provincial goals of preserving agricultural land and encouraging farming and ranching in British Columbia continue to be a priority, said Popham. The committee will be chaired by Jennifer Dyson, with members from throughout the province with diverse agricultural knowledge and experience.
“As we embark on this consultation, our collective mandate is to ensure that the ALC and agriculture is positioned for the future,” said Dyson.“I am asking that each of our review committee members listen to what is being said, honestly, impartially, professionally and in a principled fashion. I am looking forward to the conversations.”
Dyson has been involved in many aspects of agriculture; as a producer, consultant, chair, commissioner and industry member. Dyson has participated in the Partnership Committee on Agriculture and the Environment, Environmental Farm Plan Working Group, and Island Agri-Food Initiative. She was appointed to the Agricultural Land Commission in 2008 and served as chair of the Island Panel until 2017. Dyson served the agriculture industry, province and federal government as the executive director of the Agricultural Workforce Policy Board formed to respond to human resources challenges. Dyson was one of a handful of people who formed the Island Farmers Alliance and served as the Western Women’s representative appointed by the BC Agriculture Council to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. Dyson and her family operate an innovative water buffalo dairy and direct farm market in the Alberni Valley.
Also on the advisory committee will be former independent MLA Vicki Huntington, who was also a vocal opponent of the changes when the Liberals enacted them in 2014. She said, at the time, that the Liberal changes were "political."
Also on the committee are: Okanagan Nation Chief Byron Louis; Lenore Newman who holds a Canada Research chair in food security and environment at the University of the Fraser Valley, where she is an associate professor in the department of geography and the environment and the director of the Centre for Food and Farmland Innovation; Lower Mainland poultry farmer Chris Kloot; former ALC policy analyst Shaundehl Runka; grain and oilseed farmer Irmi Critcher from Taylor; Comox Valley farmer and agronomist Arzeena Hamir; former ALC chief executive officer Brian Underhill.
Beginning in early 2018, the committee will:
- Share a consultation paper to seek opinions and feedback on revitalizing the ALR and ALC;
- Host regional meetings to hear opinions and feedback directly from the local farming and ranching communities in Abbotsford, Cranbrook, Fort St. John, Kelowna, Kamloops, Nanaimo and Prince George; and
- Open an online consultation process to seek public opinion.
The committee will use the input it receives during the consultation process to develop recommendations for the provincial government's consideration. The recommendations may include changes to the current legislative, regulatory, and administrative framework to revitalize the ALR and the ALC. Any legislative changes that support the revitalization of the commission and the reserve are targeted for late 2018 or early 2019.
The ministerial mandate letter for the Minister of Agriculture identifies as a priority the revitalization of the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission, an independent administrative tribunal dedicated to preserving agricultural land and encouraging farming and ranching in British Columbia.