B.C. considers redrawing map of Agricultural Land Reserve

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett admits his recent comments on the protected land were provocative

The review of government programs could include redrawing ALR boundaries.

The review of government programs could include redrawing ALR boundaries.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett admits his recent comments on the Agricultural Land Reserve were provocative and that he wanted to spark a reaction.

He wants to hear what people think about the emotionally charged topic of redrawing the boundaries of the ALR.

“I’ve been very frustrated with the way the Agricultural Land Comission operates,” Bennett told the Cranbrook Townsmen earlier this month.

“People who are sitting on a piece of land that is covered by rocks and trees, land that should never have been in the ALR boundaries in the first place, are constantly being turned down when they want to use their own private land … for the purposes of maybe a small subdivision, or maybe they want to put a small campground on it and they’ve been flummoxed by the land commission for years.”

Bennett’s statements came as he confirmed that the core review of government services that he was leading,  also will look at redrawing ALR boundaries.

The land reserve was created in 1973 and covers 4.7 million hectares, about five per cent of B.C., protecting farmland from development.

“It’s going to be very challenging to have people be comfortable with the notion that you can look at the ALR without attacking it,” he said Friday.

Changing the ALR doesn’t mean removing good farmland but carving off areas in the Cariboo, Chilcotin, or Kootenays that are filled with rocks and trees with no access to water, that shouldn’t have been included in the first place.

“We are not making good agricultural land more available for development.

“That’s not the purpose of the review.” But he admits, just how to change those boundaries without opening up all of the reserve, hasn’t yet been figured out.

“It’s a fundamental question that we haven’t answered but will have to be answered in the process.”

The real question is, “How can we ensure that good agricultural land remains in the reserve and is protected from development, while identifying other opportunities on other lands that’s currently in the reserve that shouldn’t be there.”

Bennett is conducting a core review that will look at all government agencies following a previous overhaul that took place in 2001.

He wants to make the review non-ideological saying if it makes sense to add government services, it should do that and if makes sense to divest government services, that should take place as well.

Once the core review is complete, it will be up to cabinet to decide whether to put into place any of the recommendations. “They may not like our recommendations.”

Nicholas Simons, NDP agricultural critic, hopes Bennett isn’t trying to use a few bad examples to do something to an institution “that’s essential to our province.

“If he’s talking about a complete review, it’s a surprise.”

The Liberals should have said that before last May’s election, he added.

Now it sounds like Bennett’s setting the stage to undermine the ALC, “one of the treasures of this province. “

Simons said strenthening the land commission will  give it the resources to do science-based boundary reviews.

“His comments are either uninformed or troubling and probably both,” Simons said.

ALR boundaries do not belong in a core review, they must be done scientifically, without government interference, and must be done by the commission set up to conduct them, he said by e-mail.

If his core review results in the ALC getting enough resources to do more boundary reviews, I don’t see a problem with that. But they involve more than a guy with an opinion pointing at a rocky mound and saying “You can’t grow peas there.”

“The ALC is the best body to determine boundaries, it just needs the resources to do them.”

NDP candidate in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Elizabeth Rosenau said she doesn’t see it as left-right political issue.

“This is an economic issue.”

Maple Ridge operations such as Hopcott Premium Meats or the Laity dairy farm create jobs. “All these things are driving our economy in a way that is sustainable.”

Rosenau called the reserve a “gift” for future generations.

She wouldn’t be opposed to removing some land, if there were valid scientific reasons.

“It’s really sad to see them chip away at it. It’s really short-term thinking. Our food supply has to be secure.”

– with files from Black Press