Core Review minister fumbles ALR

There’s a threat to the ALR expressed in a Cranbrook Daily Townsman article, “Agriculture minister sees local farmers’ struggles” (Aug. 1, 2013).

Note: Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer drew on it in his column titled “Mercurial Bill Bennett trusted by Christy Clark after being spurned by ex-premier Gordon Campbell” (Aug. 3).  An earlier Sun article also mentioned the topic. I’ll respond to the Townsman article, since it was the original story and also isn’t blocked by a paywall.

For a start, here’s the letter I’ve sent to the Cranbrook editor:

Since BC cabinet minister Bill Bennett is “very frustrated with how the Agricultural Land Commission operates,” perhaps he can help add funds for the long-overdue ALR boundary review.

Despite cupboard-is-bare funding, commission chair Richard Bullock has managed to start the process, which is the smart way to catch up.

At best, the minister seems unaware that the focus of the boundary review right now is on the Elk Valley in his own riding. The stated purpose is “to refine the ALR boundaries so that they encompass land that is both capable and suitable for agricultural use.”

Unlike the needed support, political potshots at the commission hinder the useful process in progress. They also spur ALR-land speculators, putting the cost of farmland out of reach for new farmers around the province.

Bill Bennett, Minister Responsible for Core Review, British ColumbiaLet’s give Minister Bennett the benefit of the doubt that he is simply unaware that the ALR boundary review in his riding is already systematically addressing the kinds of issues he’s complaining about.

However, he was/is a lawyer, so he should know that the commission is an administrative tribunal. He is denouncing it, supposedly in his role as Minister Responsible for Core Review, which he supposes to have power over the tribunal’s funding. Whether or not he has an inflated idea of his own importance, most ministers would see that as inappropriate.

Furthermore, when he cited a particular decision that he viewed as “ just plain wrong,” he missed the purpose of the well-written application: “to create a residential parcel for the owners, a retiring farm couple” so that their daughter’s family could succeed them in owning and farming the farm. The ALC decision essentially said that the applicants could already accomplish their stated goal under the ALC Act (without an application to the ALC).

It happens, though, that the part of the act’s ALR Land Use provision the commission applied isn’t ideally expressed for the needs. Fortunately, the commission evidently followed up, working with the farming family to get the details right. (As an administrative tribunal, the ALC has more leeway than a court to collaborate like that to flexibly meet the intents of the law.)

20786cranbrookdailyBillBennettandAgMinister_webI should also add that the Core Review minister took the Agriculture Minister, Pat Pimm, to that farm to influence him and also to a ranch. There’s a photo with the ranch couple (centre, with Bennett at left and Pimm at right) that prompts the reader to feel supportive of them. However, their challenge is that the Kootenay River is slowly eroding their land, and the Core Review minister offered no solution at all. While achieving a great “photo op,” he at least doesn’t seem to have done any harm unless readers get the impression the ALC was somehow responsible for the flooding too.

British Columbia needs a Minister Responsible for Core Review who will learn from the excellent model the ALC is developing. If the Core Review builds on best practices like the ALC’s, the province will soon be in great shape.

______

Update, Oct. 3, 2013: It has come to my attention that people have been trying to send email messages to the BC Cabinet Committee Working Group on Core Review. Absurdly, email messages on the topic that are sent to the obvious address are not being accepted. I phoned the “administrative coordinator” gatekeeper, and she was  firm that input must use this online form  (deadline Oct. 16, 2013).

Update: For the latest re Richard Bullockgo here.

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