Friday, May 9, 2014
Taking the Food Out of Farming
Bill 24 a "betrayal" says food network group
Released by Abra Byrnne/BC Food Systems Network/Voice file photo
An aerial view of Fraser Valley farmland.
econd Reading of Bill 24, legislation to split the Agricultural Land commission into two zones and open farmland to non-farming uses, was met with outrage from food security and agriculture advocates yesterday.
“It is so disappointing to see Bill 24 going to Second Reading yesterday,” says Abra Brynne, Co-Chair of the BC Food Systems Network. “The Minister claimed to read letters from British Columbians but still chose to take no action on their concerns. Nothing came of the public engagement he promised. This is no way to treat British Columbians and an issue of such importance for us all.”
Since last fall, the BC Food Systems Network (BCFSN) has raised alarm bells across the province about proposed changes to farmland management in BC.
Numerous groups representing food and land issues have drawn attention to the erosion of key principles of farmland protection as contained in BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). These principles are intended to guide decision-making to account for long-term public interest, the protection of arable farmland from runaway speculation and development pressure, as well as provide a stable base for regional planning.
Brynne’s Co-Chair Brent Mansfield points to the fact that opposition to Bill 24 continues to grow. “Perhaps that’s why the government is in such a hurry,” he suggests. “We are seeing more and more letters from Farmers Institutes and local governments all around the province stating their opposition to this legislation.”
In the last few weeks, numerous municipal governments – who have a direct stake in secure land values and robust oversight, as well as improving regional food security and sustainable development – have been passing resolutions in opposition to the Bill through their local government regional associations. These resolutions either express serious concerns or ask the province for the bill to be withdrawn. ALR-related resolutions have been passed by the three of the five regional associations. The remaining two are meeting this week.
The Minister announced yesterday that some amendments will be made to Bill 24. However, at second reading the Bill still splits the ALR into two zones, adding non-agricultural priorities to decision making for Zone Two, which comprises 90% of the total ALR. The BC Agriculture Council (BCAC) is on record objecting to the two-zone structure.
“The BC Agriculture Council was the only stakeholder body the new Minister consulted with,” says Brynne. “And regardless, he doesn’t seem prepared to take their advice. For the rest of British Columbia, there was no dialogue at all.”
Brynne and Mansfield state that their organization and many others simply wished to be consulted respectfully about proposed changes to the ALR and its regulator the ALC.
”It’s time for the provincial government to show an interest in the sector through effective dialogue with farmers, ranchers and others about how to grow a strong agri-foods sector for a sustainable future. It’s time for the provincial government to invest in agriculture, not divest of farmland.”
For more information, visit www.bcfsn.org
Government Release - May 6 2014
Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick has released the following statement on Bill 24, the Agricultural Land Commission Act:
“Today I am introducing amendments to Bill 24, which take into account the written feedback of British Columbians and following input gained from meetings with leaders in B.C.’s agricultural sector. The comments expressed are as diverse as the province itself and have been very useful in my deliberations.
“The amendments allow the ALC chair or regional panel to refer applications to the ALC’s executive committee, if the chair determines that a decision could have substantial impact on the ALR. The executive committee consists of the chair and the six vice chairs, one from each region.
“Criteria will be clearly defined in regulation and could include, for example, applications with inter-regional significance, major land or large infrastructure considerations, new types of applications that have not been considered before or when the local panel determines it is best heard by the provincial committee.
“Bill 24 also is being amended to clearly outline, in priority order, the criteria the commission must consider in all land-use decisions in zone 2 (North, Interior and Kootenay). This priority list will begin with whether the ALC considers the proposal to meet with the purposes of the commission, namely the preservation of agricultural land, encouraging farming and enabling farm use on agricultural land. All other factors would follow in descending order of priority. This change is intended to confirm the ALC’s priority remains preserving farming and ensuring panels make decisions in the best interests of agriculture.
“B.C. is a large, diverse province with different agricultural practices, different population and development pressures and different social and cultural realities in our different regions. A one-size-fits-all approach to regulating farmland does not reflect this reality.
“While it is very difficult to reach complete consensus, I want to thank British Columbians for conveying their thoughts and vision to me. I believe these changes improve the existing act, maintain the preservation of agricultural land as the number one priority, and continue to support farmers and the growth of the agricultural sector as was always intended.
“British Columbians want the commission to continue making independent decisions, with preservation of farmland as its number one priority. These amendments to Bill 24 ensure those views are clearly written in law.”
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