Former Saanich mayor Frank Leonard wrapped up his three-year term as chair of the Agricultural Land Commission earlier this month. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Former ALC chair Frank Leonard talks pot farms and protecting industrial land

“Industrial users will look to ALR land, and we can’t withstand that type of pressure,” Leonard said

For the past three years Frank Leonard has lived with a suitcase next to his bed.

In that time he’s acted as chair of the Agricultural Land Commission and witnessed pockets of B.C. few people have, meeting face to face with farmers across the province. That role ended last week and the Liberal-appointed Leonard has now been replaced with Agricultural Minister Lana Popham’s NDP-appointed Jennifer Dyson, the latter having chaired Popham’s ALR review committee since January.

During his time with ALC Leonard commuted weekly to the Lower Mainland. Leonard also acted as CEO for the second half of 2015 until current CEO Kim Grout officially started. The commute and the accompanying travel were something Leonard had to get used to.

“It was amazing how a routine set in,” said Leonard, who was mayor of Saanich from 1996 to 2014.

“I never totally unpacked. You haven’t seen a region until you turn off the highway and drive 50 miles into Peace River or the Kootenays.”

Leonard now returns to free agent status, though he’ll continue his part time roles as a course instructor of small business management at the University of Victoria, as chair of Parkbridge Lifestyle Communities, as a board director for Coast Capital Credit Union and as a consultant for municipal counsellor training.

And no, Leonard is not considering a return to local politics ahead of the 2018 general election. However, he does return with plenty of insight into some of the upcoming election issues and how they affect Saanich, such as permitting marijuana growth on ALR land and how to ease the pressure on ALR land in B.C. by protecting industrial land.

As ALC chair Leonard became aware of a growing concern around local pot farms.

One of the reasons he’s seen is that the plants would be grown indoors, and because agriculture isn’t as common in Greater Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula as locals might think it is, there seems to be a misconception that a cement building doesn’t belong on ALR land.

“In Saanich there’s part-time farming but not a lot of people doing it for a full-time living, there’s not that many Galeys left,” Leonard said. “In this market, people just [envision] a concrete building on ALR land [as rare] but there’s a lot of concrete floors and buildings on ALR land in B.C., for flowers, poultry, and more, so to single out marijuana as a plant and to try and ban it sets dangerous other precedents for the ALR.”

The topic is one that Lana Popham’s ALR review group and the B.C. government will need to deal with in a holistic way, Leonard said, so as not to create unintended problems.

The other issue that follows Leonard home to Saanich is the encroachment of industrial and residential uses onto ALR land. In Leonard’s eyes the housing market is pressuring urban industrial properties, in which case trades and industry turn their eyes to available ALR lands.

One of Leonard’s last decisions was to turn down an application to rezone a large batch of farmland in Abbotsford for industrial. It was a decision the Abbotsford mayor does not agree with.

In the rejuvenated City of Port Moody, there’s a proposal to redevelop the 34-acre Flavelle sawmill site into the Flavelle Oceanfront Development, a mega-residential project. The land is on the water and has key industrial opportunity. Offer that industrial property to the trades industry and you relieve additional pressure on the already-controversial Lower Mainland ALR properties, the likes of which are threatened by residential or, at the very least, are left as uncultivated farms to house mega-mansions (something that also happens in the Saanich Peninsula).

”I’ve been discussing it with a couple of mayors in the Lower Mainland and was in the process of drafting a letter for the mayor and council of Port Moody,” Leonard said. “[ALR] can’t withstand that type of pressure. I understand that the ALC staff will make [Jennifer Dyson] aware of the letter and that she’ll carry it on.”

In the meantime Leonard is happy to have continued his role in serving the public, 18 years as mayor, 10 as a Saanich councillor and three with the ALC.

“I find it fulfilling and if I’m lucky I’ll still find something that lets me be involved publicly again.”


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