Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Barnett alleges Bill 15 — the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act — is stripping away fundamental rights of landowners. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Liberal MLA Barnett irate over agricultural land commission act amendments

Agriculture minister says changes will help keep the province’s best farmland in production

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett and other BC Liberals allege the NDP are stripping away the fundamental rights of landowners with Bill 15 — the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act.

“Property owners will no longer have the right to apply for exclusions of their property, no matter what the circumstances, or what might have changed,” Barnett said.

“The essence of the bill is that only local governments and First Nations will be able to apply for exclusion of land use, an individual cannot.”

Barnett is also critical the six regional panels previously advising the ALC will be replaced by one commission.

“I’m very upset. First we get speculation tax and 1.5 million people are now speculators unless they say they are not, and the next thing is this. The private landowner, should he choose to apply to take some land out for family reasons or it’s a rock pile, or whatever, can no longer do it.”

A person is defined in the act as a municipality or a First Nation, she added.

“I cannot understand what they are trying to do. This is very upsetting.”

Read more: Farmland review head named Agricultural Land Commission chair

Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, said the current ALC governance model of six panel regions and an executive committee will be replaced with one commission maintaining regional representation by requiring membership from all six administrative regions.

In an e-mailed response, Popham said the Agricultural Land Reserve was a game changer when it was implemented 45 years ago to protect B.C.’s best farmland for the future.

“Unfortunately, over the last 15 years the pressures on our farmland were allowed to grow,” she noted. “The old government picked fights with the Agricultural Land Commission and made changes that made it harder for the commission to do their job.”

Over the last few years, Popham added, there have been 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.

“This volume of applications to review has become burdensome to both local governments and the ALC, particularly since in many cases exclusion applications are not approved as they are for development purposes.”

Popham said the change will help keep the province’s best farmland in production and protect it against real estate speculation that drives the cost of farmland out of reach for farmers.

Landowners who want land removed from the ALR will now work with their local government to have local government bring it forward for consideration by the ALC as part of a community planning process, she added.

“We want to ensure we’re not eroding the ALR bit by bit and these applications are all done as part of thoughtful land use planning for our communities.”

As a government, the message is clear that British Columbia’s ALR is for farming, period, Popham said.

“We are backing this up with new changes to reinforce the ALC’s independence and to give them the tools they need to support their work to ensure they have the ability to fulfill their mandate and ensure our protected farmland is available and in production for future generations.”

Read more: Legislation to protect B.C. farmland comes into effect

Kim Grout, chief executive officer with the Agricultural Land Commission, said the commission is intended to be non-political.

“The current rule is that no one can come to us with an application without it being passed or authorized by a local government,” Grout said.

“They exercise their discretion regularly to not send us applications that they are not prepared to endorse or authorize to come forward.”

Currently the ALC is reviewing the legislation and giving some thought to what it will mean going forward.

“We appreciate that it is a debate and we will wait to see what happens with its official adoption,” Grout said.

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