Farmer discs a field in South Delta. (Black Press files)

Centralize farmland decisions, B.C. advisory panel recommends

Agricultural Land Commission urged to control marijuana, oil and gas uses

Going into the current review of the Agricultural Land Reserve, B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham made it clear the two-zone system of protection introduced by the previous government is on the way out.

Now the NDP government’s advisory committee is recommending that regional panels to decide land use should also be plowed under.

“The prescribed regional panel structure and function do not support an over-arching provincial vision and approach to protection of the provincial ALR,” the committee wrote in its interim report to Popham, released Wednesday.

The report also refers to “government interference in the appointment process,” a likely reference to the firing of former Agricultural Land Commission chair Richard Bullock in 2015. Former agriculture minister Norm Letnick replaced Bullock with former Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, after complaints that Bullock was refusing to appoint regional panel members and generally resisting decentralized decision-making on farmland use.

RELATED: Farmland reforms ahead for NDP

RELATED: B.C. Liberals axe ALC chairman

The report urges returning to a central structure for the ALC, to protect farmland from what it describes as the greatest three pressures: property speculation, marijuana growing and oil and gas development in northeastern B.C.

B.C. Liberal agriculture critic Ian Paton said the recommendations are an attack on local decision-making. The regional panels were a response to a large backlog of applications, and disbanding them could mean Lower Mainland directors making decisions that lack local knowledge, Paton said.

In May, Popham appointed Alberni Valley farmer Jennifer Dyson to replace Leonard, whose term expired. Dyson had spent 10 years as a commissioner, including serving as chair of the Vancouver Island regional panel.

The two-zone system was championed by former energy minister Bill Bennett, in response to frustration that rules to protect the densely populated Fraser Valley were imposed across the province when the ALR was established in the 1970s. Results included next-generation farmers forced to tear down homes built to house their retired parents, and Peace region farmers prevented from allowing oil and gas service trucks to park on their land in winter.

The zone system maintained strict control over non-farm uses in the most productive farming areas of the Lower Mainland, southern Vancouver Island and the Okanagan Valley, allowing uses such as agricultural processing in the rest of the province.

The current advisory committee is chaired by former Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington. It held nine community meetings, conducted an online survey with 2,300 responses and received 275 written submissions as well as expert presentations.

“It is the committee’s considered opinion that unless the provincial government raises the profile of agriculture across all provincial ministries and agencies, the erosion of the ALR and the decline of B.C.’s agricultural industry is a certainty,” the report states.

Just Posted

Tommy Chong says cannabis legalization makes him proud to be a Canadian

Legendary marijuana advocate and comedian celebrates cultural milestone at Kelowna event

Ocean “Blob” returns to North Coast of B.C.

A 2,000 kilometre patch of warm ocean water could signal a warm winter in Prince Rupert

‘Police are ready’ for legal pot, say Canadian chiefs

But Canadians won’t see major policing changes as pot becomes legal

VIDEO: This is what buying legal pot in B.C. looks like

Take a look inside B.C.’s first and only legal pot shop located in Kamloops

10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

Pot is legal – but there are still a lot of rules, and breaking some could leave you in jail

Singer k.d. lang receives Alberta’s highest honour

Celebrated singer-songwriter k.d. lang received the Alberta Order of Excellence in Edmonton

‘Mom, I’m in trouble:’ Canadian faces 10 years for alleged graffiti

Brittney Schneider, another tourist caught spraying message on walls of Tha Pae Gate in Thailand

Feds consulting on national anti-racism strategy behind closed doors

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says people still face systemic racism in some communities

Enbridge aims for mid-November to finish B.C. pipeline repair after blast

A natural gas pipeline that ruptured and burned near Prince George caused an explosion and fireball

How to get government cheques if Canada Post staff go on strike

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers said members could go on rotating strikes as early as Monday

Anti-SOGI school trustee files defamation lawsuit against BCTF president

Barry Neufeld says Glen Hansman’s words caused him “indignity,” “personal harassment,” and “anxiety”

Pot sales down by nearly 70% on Day 2 of legalization in B.C.

Several products on BC Cannabis Store are still sold out

B.C. jury finds man guilty of Japanese exchange student’s murder

Natsumi Kogawa was found at empty heritage mansion shortly after she was reported missing in 2016

B.C. man accused of killing Belgian tourist along Highway 1 appears in court

Sean McKenzie, 27, made second court appearance since his arrest in connection with the murder of Amelie Sakkalis

Most Read