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Former Saanich mayor Frank Leonard assigned chair of Agricultural Land Commission

Former Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard named interim chair of Agricultural Land Commission
Blenkinsop Lake Purchase 1
Frank Leonard on the trestle over Blenkinsop Lake

The B.C. government appointed former Saanich mayor Frank Leonard as chair and interim CEO of the Agricultural Land Commission on Thursday.

Current board chair and CEO Richard Bullock was surprised at his dismissal. He’ll receive a severance consistent with the rest of his contract, a five-year term that ends in November.

Leonard will hold combined duties as the board chair and CEO for a period of five months while he leads the search for a new CEO. He will continue as the chair for a three year term.

“It’s a challenge I’m excited about, an incredible honour, ALR is something I care about,” said Leonard, who was in orientation with ALC staff in Burnaby on Thursday. “This is unique as I have a steep learning curve and I am essentially replacing myself.”

NDP agricultural critic Lana Popham discredited the move, saying it weakens farmland protection, adding a direct criticism of Leonard.

“By replacing B.C.’s agricultural watch dog with someone with no background in agriculture, the B.C. Liberals are making it clear that their attack on the ALR has only just begun.”

Leonard pointed to Saanich’s longstanding support of ALR protection and decades of experience with B.C. policy.

“I love policy and I’ve made land use decisions for 28 years in a public forum, my judgement in dealing with land use applications is quite relevant,” he said. “Saanich’s land use policies were very protective of the ALR, we wanted those who own land in the ALR for it to be economically variable, but certainly the rest of B.C. doesn’t look like Saanich."

Since ending an 18-year run as Saanich mayor in November, Leonard has become chair of Parkbridge Lifestyles Communities, vice-chair of the Municipal Pension Plan and joined the board of directors for the Victoria Airport Authority.

Leonard's pay is $625 per day as chair/CEO of the ALC, a part time role that will be close to full time for the first five months.

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said with new Bill 24 regulations taking effect to manage the Agricultural Land Reserve, it was time to make a change and let Leonard and the board choose a new CEO.

The B.C. government has been at odds with Bullock since early in his five-year term, when he stopped appointing commissioners to six regional panels around the province. Energy Minister Bill Bennett, who pushed through the two-zone system under the auspices of his "core review" of government services, said a year ago that Bullock found the regional panels to be "a pain in the ass" and preferred to run the commission from its head office in Burnaby. So the government mandated regional appointments in legislation along with the two-zone concept.

Leonard takes over as the ALC deals with a vast Interior "zone two" with relaxed rules for second residences and non-farm activities. Commissioners are also expected to deal with applications by a British manufacturing giant buying B.C. Interior farms to turn back to forest for European Union carbon credits.

Letnick said the regional panels are up and running, and he doesn't expect the change at the top to cause delays in making decisions on farmland use or exclusion.

Leonard will split time between the ALC head office in Burnaby and his home in Saanich.

- With files from Tom Fletcher