B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham tours a ranch near Keremeos, December 2017. (Black Press files)

B.C. farmers aren’t ‘persons’ under new agricultural land legislation

B.C. Liberal Mike de Jong calls it an ‘assault on rights of citizens’

The B.C. government’s latest changes to protect agricultural land include a provision to redefine “person” as a local or provincial government.

Amendments to provincial law presented by Agriculture Minister Lana Popham this week mean that farmers can no longer apply directly to the Agricultural Land Commission for any exclusion of land from the reserve.

B.C. Liberal MLA Mike de Jong, a farmer, lawyer and MLA since 1994, said he didn’t believe what he was hearing at first, as Popham introduced the sweeping changes designed to roll back the previous government’s changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve.

A key change is that only the province, local governments or “a prescribed public body” can apply to the newly reorganized ALC for an exclusion of farmland.

The redefinition of “person” in the new bill is “the single most egregious assault on the rights of citizens that I have seen in 25 years,” de Jong said in an interview with Black Press.

“This is the government saying to tens of thousands of property owners, ‘we now believe the ALR is perfect, there will never be any changes, and the only agency that can ever decide to initiate a request is government’,” de Jong said. “That’s absurd. That is as egregious a violation of the rights of a citizen as I’ve seen, to deny them even the right to ask.”

He noted that the decision to exclude farmers from application by declaring them not “persons” is interesting timing, on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the declaration that women are “persons” and can vote. That case is the centre of International Women’s Day in Canada, after a group of Alberta women now known as “the famous five” won the right to vote in 1929.

ALR regulations already require local governments to approve applications to remove farmland from within their boundaries.

Popham issued a statement Friday defending the change.

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen people buying land in the ALR, only to turn around and immediately apply to get it pulled out of the ALR so they can develop it,” Popham said. “This volume of applications to review has become burdensome to both local governments and the ALC, particularly since in many cases exclusions are not approved as they are for development purposes.”

The ALC website has archived decisions, but the latest year shown is 2016. For the Vancouver Island zone, there were nine exclusion applications in 2016, including one from the Sooke Community Association, approved by the District of Sooke, to install an artificial turf playing field.

De Jong said the change puts an additional obstacle in the property owner’s path. The local government can submit an application “if they want,” he said. “If they’re not too busy. When they get around to it. There’s no incentive.”

READ MORE: B.C. tightening rules for farmland exclusion applications

READ MORE: B.C. Liberal farmland review results in two zones

The amendments also reorganize the commission, “adding more compliance and enforcement capacity and tools, including a new offence for landowners who do not produce records when the Agricultural Land Commission orders,” Popham told the legislature Thursday.

Bill 15, to be debated as early as next week, is the second stage of Popham’s reorganization of the ALC and its rules to reverse changes made by the previous B.C. Liberal government.

The legislation drew a quick response from Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier, who has argued that secondary uses keep farm operations viable in winter in his region.

“Another attack on rural B.C. and landowners,” Bernier said. “Why do the B.C. NDP always think Big Brother knows better than the people who actually own and work the land?”

The amendments also eliminate the ALC’s six regional panels and executive committee, creating a single commission with regional representation on it. Popham said that change will “strengthen the independence of the commission.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Fernie women step in to save autism program

Branch Out Learning and Behaviour Therapy to replace EK Behaviour Intervention Program in June

Reader survey offers Free Press readers $5000 cash prize

The Free Press is offering readers the chance to win $5000 cash… Continue reading

SD5 drafts business case for Fernie school expansion

Ecole Isabella Dicken Elementary School is currently 30 per cent over capacity

District of Elkford celebrates grand opening of new municipal office

Submitted District of Elkford The District of Elkford has officially begun serving… Continue reading

GALLERY: Fernie hosts mine rescue competition

Fording River, Line Creek mine rescue teams off to provincials after placing first and second

Killer of Calgary mother, daughter gets no parole for 50 years

A jury found Edward Downey guilty last year in the deaths of Sara Baillie, 34, and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman

Fernie barbecue chef challenge this weekend

May 26 cook off to showcase local talent and produce, while raising funds for Fernie Rotoary

Community spirit saves Sparwood’s Coal Miner Days

Volunteers still needed to help run event, which will be held from June 3-9 at various locations

Most British Columbians agree the ‘big one’ is coming, but only 50% are prepared

Only 46 per cent of British Columbians have prepared an emergency kit with supplies they might need

B.C. man to pay Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party $20k over lawsuit

Federal judge shut down Satinder Dhillon’s ‘nonsensical’ motion to bar use of PPC name in byelection

Sitting and sleeping on downtown sidewalks could net $100 fine in Penticton

The measure, which still requires final approval, would be enforced between May and Sept. 30

Survey finds 15% of Canadian cannabis users with a valid licence drive within two hours of using

Survey also finds middle-aged men are upping their usage following legalization

Most Read