Lana Popham: ALR consultation a botched process

Saanich-South MLA weighs in on provincial changes to Agricultural Land Reserve

Last spring, the B.C. Liberals passed a law that removes protections for 90 per cent of farmland in British Columbia. They did this without consulting with farmers, communities or the public.

“Trust us,” the B.C. Liberals said, and they promised to consult broadly before using the legislation to further weaken farmland protection.

Unfortunately – the B.C. Liberals are so intent on ramming through their new vision for paving over farmland, that they have no intention of fulfilling the spirit of their promise.

Most people wouldn’t know it, but those so-called consultations are nearly over. They are set to end mid-August, as most farmers across the province are working full speed to get their crops in and out to their customers.

Not only that, but these consultations were closed off to the general public and the media, and the proceedings are not being recorded in detail for the public record. Instead, only a summary will be made available sometime in the future. Not only that, but this draft report will not be sent back to stakeholders for review before regulations are implemented.

Since reporters are barred from the sessions, we’ll have to take the B.C. Liberals’ word for what was said at the meetings.

Even as the agriculture representative for the Official Opposition, I had to fight for the right to attend the meetings.

So far, I’ve travelled to Fort St. John, Prince George, Cranbrook, Nanaimo and Abbotsford.

When the public was promised consultations by the government, they expected more. They expected to be able to participate. They expected that the government would ensure that the timing worked for farmers.

A real consultation process would have allowed more time, more notice, public accessibility to input, and would have been much more extensive than six sessions at a time when farmers are in the middle of harvest.

It’s clear the B.C. Liberals aren’t really interested in hearing from farmers, and they certainly aren’t interested in hearing from the public.

Real action to help farmers would focus on helping them grow their crops, their livestock and their businesses, not on making it easier to develop farmland. Instead, the B.C. Liberals have continually cut the agriculture ministry, slashed extension officers and eliminated programs like Buy B.C. that helped raise the profile of local products.

The ALR was created as an inter-generational legacy to benefit all British Columbians. It shouldn’t be at the mercy of an election cycle or undermined at the whim of a minister. As the ongoing drought in California shows, we can’t depend on being always able to get our food from elsewhere.

There are definitely some changes to the ALR that New Democrats could support – changes that would help farmers, not the developers that make 90 per cent of the applications for land removals from the ALR.

Unfortunately, this botched consultation process is more evidence that the B.C. Liberals have an agenda that’s bad for farmland and bad for farmers.

Lana Popham is the MLA for Saanich-South and New Democrat agriculture critic.

 

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