The Chilliwack ALR fiasco

Is British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) like a gunless sheriff in Dodge City? Flouting of ALR regulations by the City of Chilliwack has prompted that question again.

In the past year or two, it became evident that Chilliwack’s adjustments to property boundaries a few years ago had led to agricultural land being improperly used for residential lots. Now an ALC investigation has identified 66 cases that were not consistent with the ALC regulations. That’s a large number, and one would expect strong consequences. But the ALC report says this:

After thoroughly reviewing all options available to remedy the inconsistent decisions, the ALC concluded that in most cases there is no practical and reasonable administrative or legal recourse that will enable it to reverse inconsistent boundary adjustment subdivisions. In essence, the ALC cannot turn back the clock and is compelled to accept that some agricultural lands in Chilliwack have been negatively affected by a number of boundary adjustments made by the City. (p. 3)

The ALC required the City of Chilliwack to clean up a few things, asked everyone to do better in the future, and will work with the provincial government to consider “legislative and regulatory amendments,” including additional remedies for unlawful non-farm use of land in the ALR (p. 20).

This is a high-profile situation because it involves former Chilliwack mayor John Les, who became an MLA and was a BC cabinet minister until he had to step down. If the government is ever going to give the sheriff a gun to go with the badge, this is a good opportunity at a good time. (A few more deputies to act on tips with early law enforcement could also help the new sheriff get off to a great start).

Along with expecting and receiving better enforcement capability, the Agricultural Land Commission must end the kind of messing around we saw happening with the City of Richmond long after the 2008 Garden City Lands exclusion application should have been firmly rejected. In a presentation to Richmond council, school trustee Carol Day discredited a harmful proposal that seemed to come from City and ALC staff, and council voted it down. That misguided ALC adventure just damaged public confidence in the commission and has become one of the causes of current complications—Musqueam Indian Band legal action against the City.

Erik Karlsen probably did a good job as ALC chair, but he has completed his term now. His replacement has been chosen, and the announcement is imminent. There’s enough public attention on the Chilliwack fiasco to give the new chair a golden opportunity to set the ALC in motion in the best direction. Supporters and opponents of the ALR will be watching closely.

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