Proposed changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act are being misinterpreted, said B.C.’s Agriculture Minister.
“The one that is being misconstrued the most is that there’s going to be a loss of rights for property owners,” Lana Popham told the Tribune, during a phone interview from Boston where she was attending the North American Sea Food Expo.
“The reason why we hope to change the legislation is because most people around the globe understand that we need to be very, very concerned about food security, for every country.”
Food security is not a “wacky” topic, but a mainstream concern, she added.
“One thing B.C. has that really sets us aside is this incredible Agricultural Land Reserve tool. It’s been the most effective land-use tool that we’ve seen as far as making sure that we’ve got land for growing food into the future.”
There are other jurisdictions around the world that wish they’d done the same thing, she added.
“We’ve already got this land base there. It’s only five per cent of the province and it was put in place many decades ago. I think when it was first put into place there were some concerns about it then, but the same people that may have been concerned about it back then are now incredibly grateful there was that foresight.”
B.C. has an advantage with the opportunity to get more of the ALR land into production because it has not been turned over for development, Popham said.
“We have not only the opportunity to grow food for ourselves, which we are going to need to do more and more, but we also have the ability to grow for other regions.”
Popham said there is a renaissance of young people interested in farming again.
She was in Williams Lake in February and met many young people that are interested in agriculture.
“One of the biggest challenges young people have is getting access to land so we want to make sure that land is there.”
The most “unfortunate” part of the opposition’s argument is the failure to bring forward arguments about food security, Popham said.
“To me that’s really sad at this point. They are concerned that people are losing their rights and that we are doing massive changes, but really it is not much of a change.”
Popham said the changes are not unreasonable.
“I think we are being forward thinking. I hope the opposition will come around and understand that. In this case I think we can put down our political flags and we can think about the future of our province and our food supply.”
In the Cariboo Regional District’s area there were no exclusion applications last year, she confirmed.
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said the Liberals were also concerned about the change from six regional panels to one provincial panel.
However, Popham said the thing she heard during the last year and a half of consultation, was that everyone wanted to have regional representation kept in the system.
“I heard the ALC’s regional panels were working independently of the commission so they were making decisions on applications that would end up having to be sent back to the executive because they were not looking at it as a provincial land-use tool.”
There will be representatives from all six regions, and if an application comes in from a certain region, more representatives can be brought in to help adjudicate the applications, she added.