The province’s decision to include the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in its core review of government services has raised fears about farmland preservation in B.C. — and the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) has added its voice to the debate.
In a resolution passed at the SCRD’s Oct. 10 board meeting, directors voted to write Victoria warning that a reduction in the effectiveness of the ALR “is not an effective means of saving money for the provincial government.”
The letter, which asks for the SCRD to be consulted during the first phase of the core review process, also warns that “speculation in agricultural land for future development is driving up the cost of agricultural land, threatening farming businesses in B.C. and B.C.’s food sovereignty,” and notes that “even soils below class three (and even classes six and seven) are capable of growing many suitable crops such as berries.”
Late last month, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, who is leading the core review, urged his fellow ministers to take “a bold approach” in submitting ideas to cut provincial spending by $50 million. Almost two months earlier, Bennett sparked an outcry after confirming the review would also look at redrawing ALR boundaries.
“I’ve been very frustrated with the way the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) operates,” Bennett was quoted in the Cranbrook Daily Townsman newspaper on Aug. 1. “People who are sitting on a piece of land that is covered by rocks and trees, land that should never have been in the ALR boundaries in the first place, are constantly being turned down when they want to use their own private land … for the purposes of maybe a small subdivision, or maybe they want to put a small campground on it and they’ve been flummoxed by the land commission for years.”
The minister’s comments were “perplexing,” planner Andrew Allen told the SCRD’s community services committee on the afternoon of the Oct. 10 board meeting.
Saving money from government operations and opening up ALR land for subdivision “seem to be two separate issues,” Allen told the committee.
Responding Oct. 1 to Bennett’s comments, NDP agriculture critic Nicholas Simons said it was “cynical and highly inappropriate” to include the ALC in the core review, especially at a time when changes were being made to the commission.
“In 2011, the chair of the ALC reported on improvements that needed to be made, but the Liberals have failed to implement them,” said Simons, MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast. “Nor did much change after the Auditor General did a report in 2010, chastising the government for failing to meet the needs of the commission.”
With the Liberals’ inclusion of the ALR and ALC in the core review, Simons added, “It’s hard to believe their goal is anything but more cuts that will undermine agricultural land protection in B.C.”
Among the stated objectives of the core review is ensuring effective government operations by “reducing red tape and unnecessary regulations that hinder economic development.”
The review process is scheduled to wrap up at the end of next year.
Created in 1973, the ALR covers some 4.7 million hectares, or five per cent of the province.