Modern farming feeds millions

Farmland fight sheds little light

Will secondary uses on rural Interior farmland destroy fragile bird habitat? And what about the endangered small farmer?

VICTORIA – Detailed debate on changes to the Agricultural Land Commission got underway in the legislature last week, while protesters played to urban voters outside.

A couple of West Kootenay NDP supporters brought a basket of homegrown veggies down to help East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett get through the winter on a 100-mile diet.

A group of mostly UBC scientists wrote to Premier Christy Clark, embracing the popular assumption that the changes will automatically mean more exclusions of agricultural land, as well as expanded secondary uses in the Cariboo, Kootenay and North zones. This “jeopardizes species at risk, threatens many common species, and will impact many species prized for hunting,” they wrote.

It makes me wonder if these university botanists and bird experts actually understand what farming is. You know, clear-cutting a forest and planting largely monoculture crops? Using big machinery, creating drainage, applying fertilizers, controlling diseases, pests and wild animals? Not backyard gardening, real farming of the sort that has fed more people than in all of human history?

Have they heard that the largest cause of deforestation in North America is farming?

Do they imagine habitat loss from subdivisions sprawling across the Cariboo?

Forests Minister Steve Thomson has been pinch-hitting for Fort St. John MLA Pat Pimm on the agriculture file as Pimm undergoes cancer treatment. Thomson took exception when NDP agriculture critic Nicolas Simons asked if he is aware people think the changes are to “neuter the chair of the Agricultural Land Commission.”

Thomson, a former executive director of the Kelowna-based B.C. Agriculture Association, replied that the changes do not reduce the independence of the chair.

Under further questioning from Simons, Thomson allowed that the current ALC chair, Richard Bullock, has provided no response to the government on the proposals.

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick was appointed Friday to replace Pimm as agriculture minister. But this ALC project is Bennett’s initiative, so I asked him about his changes to the appointment process.

Bennett said the six regional panels, up to three people each, were set up by then-minister Stan Hagen in 2003 to provide local input. That worked well, he said, until Bullock came on the scene and began exercising his discretion not to appoint people recommended by cabinet.

“The chair doesn’t like the regional panels,” Bennett told me. “It’s a pain in the ass for the chair to have to deal with 18 farmers from all over the province in making decisions. It would be six farmers, because only one person from the regional panel actually sits on the provincial commission.

“He thinks that it’s unwieldy, and he’d rather have the decision-making centralized in Burnaby. But we changed that. We decided as a duly elected government in 2003 that we wanted the regions to have a say on this stuff, so the intention of the legislation, we felt, was actually being defeated, because we hadn’t made it mandatory.”

It will be mandatory soon, and Bullock’s days as commission chair appear to be numbered.

“There’s no more discretion for any future chair to monkey with it,” Bennett added.

One of Bennett’s key issues is denial of secondary residence construction to keep families on the land in the Interior. The legislation also introduces social and economic factors in weighing decisions in the North, Cariboo and Kootenay regions, where in most cases development pressure is an urban myth.

The main ALC board will still have authority to revisit a local panel decision if the chair deems it inconsistent with the mandate to protect farmland.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Follow me on Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Incumbents and acclaimed mayors win elections all across B.C.’s north

Fraser Lake saw their first female mayor elected

Mayoral results from across B.C.

Voters in 162 municipalities in B.C. set to elect mayor, council, school board and more

Every vote counts: 10 tightest races in B.C.’s municipal elections

Peachland saw their election decided by just one vote

Northwestern BC Hydro transmission line to be refurbished

Replacing poles between Kitimat and Terrace far cheaper than complete new line

Tommy Chong says cannabis legalization makes him proud to be a Canadian

Legendary marijuana advocate and comedian celebrates cultural milestone at Kelowna event

B.C. Youtuber to seal himself ‘in a jar’ to demonstrate impacts of climate change

Kurtis Baute wants to see how long he can last in a 1,000 cubic foot, air-tight greenhouse

One of Taiwan’s fastest trains derails, killing at least 18

The train was carrying more than 360 people

Scheer marks one-year countdown to federal election with campaign-style speech

Conservative Leader insists that it will be Justin Trudeau who ‘makes it personal’

Canada Post union announces rotating strikes in four Canadian cities

Mail will still be delivered but it will be delayed

B.C. VIEWS: Residents have had enough of catering to squatters

Media myth of homeless victims offends those who know better

B.C. man sets new Canadian marathon record at Toronto Waterfront Marathon

Cam Levins ran it in two hours nine minutes 25 seconds

B.C. Liberals’ hopes high as Nanaimo by-election approaches

Historically safe NDP seat vacated by long-time MLA Leonard Krog

Leaving B.C.’s electoral reform to a referendum is ‘ridiculous’: professor

B.C. voters getting ballots in the mail on proposal to change electoral system

Most Read