Value chair of Anything Land Reserve

First, let’s recall the day contentious Bill 24 was unveiled

Bill 24, the bill to kill the ALR, is not yet law.

The ALR – B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve – can still be saved.

We all can help.

First, let’s recall the day Bill 24 was unveiled.

Cabinet minister Bill Bennett and agriculture minister Pat Pimm are not ALR fans, and Bill 24 reflects that.

The pretense for the bill is an “ALR core review.”

The review is mostly imaginary, but Bennett did get ideas from his Kootenay East constituents. For the media, one of them said her children might build a prison or motel on ALR land.

Bennett said, “If I was going to point to one aspect of the ALC that people in my region really don’t like, it’s the fact that they apply and they get turned down by, essentially, bureaucrats who live in the Lower Mainland.”

Stirs local pride, but false.

As the Agricultural Land Commission website shows, ALC commissioners live in five of the six regions. There’s one apiece in the Kootenay and South Coast regions.

The ALC panels meet in their regions.

Bennett implied that Cranbrook has no local food, but the ALC’s Cranbrook commissioner produces free-range beef.

Bennett said the bill would allow farmers to do “canning or making jams or cheese or wine.” What? Within reason, they’ve always been ALR uses.

Bennett complained that a constituent was stopped from mining gravel. Turns out his own ministry refused it.

Bennett whined about bad local land stuck in the ALR. But the ALC is doing an ALR boundary review in Kootenay East. It implements the auditor general’s advice, and Bennett may have slowed it to a standstill. He then blames the ALC for problems they were solving.

Bennett did admit confusion and mentioned he didn’t consult for Bill 24. True. He didn’t even consult ALC chair Richard Bullock.

Bullock is a successful farmer, business leader and public servant. It shows in his ALC work, a model of best practice.

Bullock became chair in mid-2010, just before the auditor general’s report on the ALC. Starting with that, he consulted around the province.

Bullock then wrote a thorough strategic vision. Since then, he keeps sharing updates about process and progress. Sadly, he had to issue a policy statement about the role of elected officials in applications to the ALC – prompted by Pimm’s meddling.

Now Bill 24 demotes Bullock’s role. It transfers the duty of chairing the ALC tribunal to six chairs. In effect, that shift results in six tribunals with differing standards. Bullock isn’t allowed to chair any.

He is left out. The vague bill is clear about that. He won’t even be consulted when the ministry selects ALC commissioners and chairs.

Bullock also acts as chief executive, but he’s to lose that, too. The bill, which does nil for farmland and farming, does promise him waves of rules and requirements.

The ALR is a provincial land use zone. The bill slices it into two, then six. Simply put, we’ll have ALR1A, ALR1B, ALR1C, ALR2A, ALR2B and ALR2C.

The bill enables the agriculture minister to quickly take control of the tribunals. Not that it matters in ALR2A–C, nine-tenths of the ALR. Self-serve rubber stamps might do.

Why? The bill says the tribunals there must consider “economic, social and cultural values,” which means “anything,” in ALR decisions. Welcome to the Anything Land Reserve.

Is the California drought a myth? Is it time to kill the ALR? At huge cost?

If no, what’s next? Maybe the premier steps in. Or the MLAs back Richard Bullock’s integrity with their integrity. Let’s urge them to set things right.

Jim Wright is president of the Garden City Conservation Society.