B.C. Auditor General urges Agricultural Land Commission to continue progress

B.C. Auditor General John Doyle’s Audit of the Agricultural Land Commission begins:

Recently, the commission reported that 95% of respondents to a public survey supported the Agricultural Land Reserve and the policy of preserving agricultural land. Preservation of agricultural land is fundamental to securing food production for future generations, particularly given the uncertain effects of climate change on our food imports and our agricultural systems.

The report then comments about progress:

In 1994, my Office examined the commission’s performance and found that there were a number of improvements needed if the commission’s mandate was to be met. Sixteen years later and upon re-examination, I found that significant challenges continue. (p. 1)

The Auditor General makes nine recommendations, including two that I’ve greyed because they’re specific to another region of the province:

  1. ensure that ALR boundaries are accurate and include land that is both capable of and suitable for agricultural use.
  2. seek government’s support to make changes that will allow it to more effectively preserve agricultural land and encourage farming through the application process.
  3. engage in proactive long-term planning with local governments to encourage farming.
  4. work with Fraser-Fort George Regional District to address concerns it has with the District’s processes.
  5. work with the Oil and Gas Commission to develop an action plan to implement the recommendations of the 2009 audit.
  6. ensure that it has a sufficiently robust compliance and enforcement program.
  7. prioritize completion of the new database and finalize conversion of the original paper ALR maps into digitalized format.
  8. evaluate the collective impacts of its decisions on applications and its broader policy decisions.
  9. report publicly on the cumulative impacts of its decisions. (p. 3)

The Auditor General next provides the Agricultural Land Commission’s response to each recommendation. The response concludes :

Many of the challenges facing the commission and identified in the audit have been recognized for some time and initiatives are underway, where resources permit, to address some of the issues. In addition, the newly appointed Chair of the Agricultural Land Commission is presently carrying out a review of all facets of the organization, including operations, policies and legislation, to ensure that it is appropriately positioned to continue the agricultural land preservation program well into the future. The purpose of the review is to determine if the Commission is capable of meeting its mandate as outlined in section 6 of the Agriculture Land Commission Act and to explore opportunities to more effectively and efficiently administer the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The audit has provided several recommendations that will be helpful to the Chair in the review, particularly in the context of improving the commission’s effectiveness in preserving agricultural land and encouraging farming, protecting the ALR and carrying out enhanced evaluation and reporting. (p. 6)

A news release from the Office of the Auditor General is the last word:

“The fundamental importance of preserving agricultural land is particularly significant given the uncertain effects of climate change on our food imports and our agricultural systems,” said Doyle. “I am encouraged by the commission’s acceptance of my recommendations and I look forward to receiving updates on their plans and actions for future improvements.”

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