More changes are coming Delta’s Agricultural Land Reserve.
Now on Agriculture Minister Lana Popham’s desk for review, a final report by a committee looking into revitalizing the Agricultural Land Reserve, as well as the commission overseeing it, is expected to have some wide-sweeping recommendations.
“The final report was wide ranging and is a significant contribution to government’s understanding of how the ALR and ALC can be revitalized. Ministry of Agriculture staff are now reviewing the independent committee’s recommendations. Once the review process is complete, the final report will be released to the public,” the ministry explains.
Chaired by former Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington, the Minister’s Advisory Committee for Revitalizing the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission last year gathered feedback, having visited several communities, but not Delta, and issued an interim report last summer.
The government recently introduced new legislation which came from the recommendations, Bill 15, the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act 2019, which enacts several changes including the elimination of six regional panels.
“The bill tabled today builds on the work we started over a year ago to better protect farmland and encourage farming and ranching in B.C.,” Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, said. “We are ensuring the commission has the tools and the governance model required to strengthen its independence and ability to act in the best interest of our farmland within the Agricultural Land Reserve, so that British Columbians are able to access safe, locally grown food for generations to come.”
The ministry notes the change, among other things, sees one commission maintaining regional representation by requiring membership from all six administrative regions.
Delta South MLA Ian Paton wasn’t impressed with the recommendation to eliminate the regional panels, something he said would result in the knowledge of local farmers and ranchers not being considered when it comes to making decisions on the use of agricultural land.
“Currently these panel members actually live in the regions where they are appointed, and have the appropriate agricultural expertise to make decisions on applications from that region,” said Paton last summer. The Liberal agriculture critic, and whose father, Ian Paton Sr., was a former chair of the ALC, Paton noted, “Doing away with these panels would undermine local decision-making and knowledge of the land. It could mean that a commissioner on the Lower Mainland ends up making decisions for the rest of the province without knowing the unique conditions and circumstances of each region.”
The review committee identified 13 recommendations for legislative and regulatory change, and four recommendations for action to protect the ALR. It also identified 14 key issues that were still under consideration for its final report.
Huntington at the time said meetings had been “very intense” and that committee members were pleased to be able to provide a thorough series of recommendations to the minister.
The committee noted the need for immediate legislative and regulatory change in four targeted areas: protecting the ALR land base into the future, preserving the productive capacity of the ALR, improving governance of the ALR and supporting farmers and ranchers.
Among the areas of concern raised was cannabis production in the reserve and well as the reserve being purchased for real estate speculation. On the issue of speculation, the committee’s interim report noted that as urban land prices increase and population grows, the pressure to develop agricultural land continues to build. It stated agricultural land is being taken out of production and investors and speculators are being allowed to exploit tax system incentives intended only for those who farm.
The legislation introduced also requires that exclusions be submitted to the ALC only by local governments, First Nations governments or the province “to encourage these type of applications be done as part of thoughtful land-use planning process.”
B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson recently told the Optimist there hasn’t been much as far as open community discussions about the future of the reserve.
“It’s been a closed door, secretive approach about something that’s very important to the future of Ladner, Tsawwassen and North Delta. You’d expect there would be a lot more involvement in the community, instead of them coming down with some plan and telling us what’s good for us,” Wilkinson said.