Delta South MLA and Liberal agriculture critic Ian Paton doesn’t think much of a report submitted to the government on ways to revitalize the Agricultural Land Reserve, while the chair of the commitee that penned that report says she’d like to personally give him to get all the facts.
The interim report by the committee chaired by Vicki Huntington, Delta’s former independent MLA, was recently submitted to Agriculture Minister Lana Popham.
The 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 are still under consideration for its final report. That final report will come this fall.
Paton in a press release said the committee recommends eliminating the Agricultural Land Commission’s six regional panels, something that will 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, an East Ladner farmer outspoken when it comes to farming issues, and whose father, Ian Paton Sr. was a former chair of the ALC.
“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.”
Paton, a former city councillor, also noted the former B.C. Liberal government instituted those regional panels as part of a series of reforms that relieved a massive backlog of applications. “A move back to one provincial panel will create nothing but uncertainty and more red tape for agricultural landowners,” said Paton.
Meanwhile the report also recommends the removal of Zone 2 from the ALR, which will diminish landowners’ flexibility to live off the land, he argued.
Paton also noted the interim report “creates a climate of uncertainty for the entire natural resource sector in B.C as it seeks to put up more roadblocks to economic development.”
However, Huntington, who gained a reputation as an outspoken advocate of preserving Delta’s ALR land during her time as MLA, has a very different take, responding to Paton that he seems to have gotten his information from that a B.C. media outlet which had “misrepresented the recommendations surrounding regional panels”. She said she presumes Paton “had not yet had a chance to review the Interim Report before responding to his questions.”
She offered a meeting with Paton to discuss the interim report.
“It is significant and while you may not agree with everything, I think you will be supportive of many of the recommendations and much of the direction,” she replied in an e-mail directly to the MLA.
“For your information, the recommendations regarding the panel structure included the necessity to continue the important local representation, but to also include panelists outside the local region in order to ensure the province-wide interests/mandate are also part of the decision-making process.”
Noting Paton has an important role as the agriculture critic, Huntington added she looks forward to meeting with him.
The committee also submitted a “what we heard” report summarizing the findings from stakeholder meetings and public engagement held from February to the end of April of this year.