“We are stunned that changes of this magnitude would be proposed behind closed doors in government,” said a shocked Brent Mansfield, Co-Chair of the BC Food Systems Network, last week. “We agree with Mark Hume’s analysis that this proposal will dismantle the Agricultural Land Commission, and along with it, the Agricultural Land Reserve.”
The BC Food Systems Network includes hundreds of members and organizations representing farmers, food producers, health promoters, and community food organizations around British Columbia who are concerned with farming and food security in the province.
Hume’s story Sacrosanct Agricultural Land Commission eyed for breakup in a recent Globe and Mail stated that the B.C. government is proposing to open up over 50 per cent of B.C.’s protected farmland to development, to neuter the ALC by removing its powers, and to download decision-making authority on farmland to local governments and the Oil and Gas Commission.
“That’s our farming and food security gone, right there,” says Mansfield. “If you change its farmland protection mandate and take away its provincial focus and its independence, you make the Agricultural Land Commission powerless and ineffective. Then, even if you say – as the minister did – that you want to protect farmland and farming, you won’t be able to. Development interests of all kinds will win, in the short term, every time. And we lose our focus on the long term.”
Mansfield also questions whether farmers, ranchers, local governments – or the ALC itself – have been consulted about these proposals. “Splitting the ALR into two zones and handing most of the exclusion decisions north and east of the Okanagan to local government and the Oil and Gas Commission will have significant fallout for those directly affected,” Mansfield points out. “Is this a proposal coming out of excitement about oil and gas? Why should agriculture, which after all is a sustainable industry, be pushed aside for an extractive industry? Agriculture in B.C. provides almost 62,000 jobs and brings $11.7 billion in revenue per year into B.C. Some areas, like direct sales to consumers, have grown by 147 per cent in just over five years (from $46 million in 2006 to $113 million in 2012).”
As well as questioning the magnitude of these proposals with their disturbing implications for the future of farmland protection, Mansfield questions the timing. “Two reviews – by the Auditor General and by the ALC chair – were conducted in 2010, and the chair recently reported that the boundary review work and other improvements were on track,” Mansfield points out. “The proposals Mr Hume is reporting sweep those changes away.”
Mansfield concludes: “It is beyond comprehension to the BCFSN that decisions of this magnitude are happening behind closed doors. We have been raising ALR and ALC concerns with the province since September. We were told – by MLAs and by the Premier – that there would be plenty of opportunities for public input to the Core Review. Where are they? What we and other stakeholders need, if any changes are proposed for the ALR and ALC, is a full, transparent and comprehensive public consultation process.”