Opinion

Letters: ALC amendment is half-baked

Editor, The News:

Re: Farmland reserve gets split into two (The News, March 28).

Recently, the B.C. Government introduced Bill 24, the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, 2014.

The bill has not yet been debated in the legislature.

The government, led by minister Bill Bennett, in charge of what is being called the core review, has been ruminating for months about their intentions to ‘reform’ the ALC.

This has culminated under Bill 24, to the separation of the province into two zones: Zone One including the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan; and Zone Two including the rest of the province.

Just what this means for the administration of the ALC is unclear.

Mr. Bennett has indicated the role of the ALC will remain as it was previously in Zone One. However, the government is being coy about just what uses will be allowed in Zone Two.

Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm says that one thing the government is considering allowing in Zone Two is food processing on the farm.

Interestingly, the B.C. Liberals have opposed farmers’ and ranchers’ attempts to allow more ‘farm gate’ sales for years.

Bill 24 offers a weak description of what may be allowed in Zone Two under the new rules and, significantly, nothing is being said about what will not be permitted in Zone Two.

Will subdivisions be permitted, for example? How about commercial developments, such as motels, hotels and malls?

Bill 24 is truly a half-baked bill.

Mr. Bennett says the rules around Zone Two are the same as those around Zone One, except that, in Zone Two, the ALC will have to consider “economic” and the “social” impacts.

It’s anybody’s guess what that means.

“My ranch is not doing that well economically, so I should be granted a mall or subdivision to boost my income?”

Who knows.

“Our children are leaving the farm so we should be allowed to have a penitentiary on our agricultural land.”

Maybe.

These changes will rehash the same complaints we have been hearing for years when people want to develop in the ALR.

My land is poor quality,” or “the drainage is poor,” or “there’s too many rocks.”

No doubt there is some ALR land that has too many rocks to allow for cultivation.  But these determinations should be made by an independent ALC and not based on “economic” or “social”considerations.

To make judgments based on the latter would  inevitably result in the loss of more farmland.

If the government really wants to help farmers, it should put a stop to the speculation that drives up the price of land, making it too expensive for farmers to buy.

But they don’t do that.

Why?

Because the bottom line for this government has always been about allowing developers to have at agricultural land wherever they can get away with it.

Michael Sather

Maple Ridge

 

Editor’s note: Michael Sather is former NDP MLA for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge.

 

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