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MLA COLUMN: Agriculture Land Reserve rules relaxed

The agriculture minister backed down from imposing severe restrictions against farmers

It’s quite something to witness firsthand how our democratic system operates when a group of people unite and tell government that they are following the wrong path.

That’s exactly what happened last week. The agriculture minister backed down from imposing severe restrictions against farmers from constructing any new residences – or even placing trailers – on their own property contained within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

The ALR sets aside nearly five million hectares of farmland across our province with the purpose of protecting it from encroaching development. The ALR also plays a very important role in preserving our own food security – plus it supports a vital industry that creates so many jobs in our province.

READ MORE: Government to allow ‘more residential flexibility’ in agricultural lands, says B.C. minister

The disagreement between the farmers and the government started when Agriculture Minster Lana Popham introduced Bill 52 a few years back that put in place a moratorium on new residential construction. The farmers fought back and in October of 2019, dozens of them arrived on the steps of the legislature in Victoria to deliver a petition signed by 26,000 people – just ordinary British Columbians – that pointed out that government was interfering with a farmer’s ability to make a living.

The farmers were perfectly honest and told government that in order to run a successful farm operation in a competitive market environment, new secondary homes are required for a number of reasons. First of all, a great deal of the agriculture industry relies on temporary foreign workers at various times of the growing season and especially during harvest.

So farmers need to provide housing for temporary foreign workers in order to grow their operations. Secondly – and most importantly – the stricter rules effectively prevented family members who grew up on the farm from supporting their family business.

The new rules would essentially end the passing of the family farm from one generation onto the next.

Worst of all, the province would lose all the people best qualified to choose agriculture as a career.

Although the land contained within the ALR is important – the government overlooked the most vital thing.

It’s the people who farm the land who matter most.

READ MORE: UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

Lorne Doerkson is the Liberal MLA for the Cariboo-Chilcotin.