B.C. agriculture minister: ALR consultation feedback ‘thoughful’

Norm Letnick responds to concern about ALR consultations across B.C.

This spring, the B.C. government passed Bill 24, the Agricultural Land Commission Act, to help farmers grow their business and earn a better living while preserving B.C. farmland for future generations.

We began the process with a clear starting point: the ALC must remain a fully independent tribunal and decision-maker, and continue to make final decisions on specific land uses within the Agricultural Land Reserve; and B.C.’s farmland must be preserved to ensure a sustainable land base for production and a strong future for farming; Bill 24 achieved this by clearly laying out the ALC’s role as an independent decision maker and ensuring it has all of the necessary tools at its disposal to continue making the independent decisions that British Columbians have counted on it to make for more than 40 years.

When I was appointed Minister of Agriculture, I made a commitment that we would consult on the development of any potential new regulations related to Bill 24. This July and August, I delivered on that commitment.

A Minister’s reference group, comprised of representatives from the ALC, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and the agricultural industry, was struck and convened to inform the consultation process and any regulatory outcomes.

Our goal was simple: to hear people’s thoughts about the implications of what has been suggested, and gather the best ideas to help farmers earning a living on their land and ensure another generation is ready and willing to get into farming.

Informed by meetings with the reference group, 12 specific questions were drafted covering topics ranging from whether the parametres for allowable on-farm food storage, packing, processing and retail establishments should be revised – to whether breweries, distilleries and meaderies be allowed on ALR land on the same or similar terms as wineries and cideries are currently allowed.

In July and August, Ministry staff, accompanied by representatives from the ALC, met face to face with more than 100 local government and farming organization representatives in six B.C. regions. The group listened to their feedback and ideas. All British Columbians were also invited to participate and share their ideas and views through our public website or by writing me directly.

In addition, throughout August I travelled more than 4,000 kilometres in my van talking with B.C. farmers and ranchers about how best to grow the agriculture sector while encouraging them to provide input on the consultation.

I’m pleased to report we had a strong response from all groups with a broad range of thoughtful comments for consideration.

A Ministry team, together with agriculture policy experts, will read through all of the comments and create a report and summary that will identify main themes and ideas. This report will be presented to the Minister’s reference group, and will be shared publicly.

I want to thank all the British Columbians who took the time to get involved and contacted me with ideas and input.

I’d also like to thank the ALC, whose input and experience was invaluable throughout this process, for their assistance at the regional sessions, as well as the members of the board of the B.C. Agriculture Council, other industry representatives, members of the UBCM, and MLAs who attended these sessions as observers.

We believe giving farmers more opportunities to grow their farming businesses is a benefit to them.

We also think it’s a benefit to British Columbians who want access to more foods grown in this province.

I am confident that together, we can help ensure a strong future for farming in British Columbia.

Norm Letnick

Minister of Agriculture