End the Bennett-Pimm havoc!

Fort St. John landowner built rodeo against ALC ruling

In its own good time, the  Agricultural Land Commission has now taken strong enforcement action on the Fort St. John farmland shown above. It gives occasion to review the ongoing kerfuffle that requires the ALC to act with such a firm hand and prompts many of us to be vigilant. Here goes.

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Havoc has a life of its own.

The present time of havoc on the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) began six months ago when B.C. Ministers Bill Bennett and Pat Pimm made a fuss.

Dream landscape moon wallpapers

It stirred the blood of those who dream of farmland as what it could be for them if it only it were only liberated from the ALC, the tribunal responsible for B.C.’s land bank, the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

mad viking 1mad viking 2I wrote about this at the beginning of August 2013 in “Core Review minister fumbles ALR.” That was after Minister Bennett, with Minister Pimm in tow, cried havoc in the Bennett riding, Kootenay East. As the article shows, they undermined the commission with examples that didn’t even fit with their complaints:

  • In one case, the commission had supported the intent of an ALR-exclusion application but still rejected the application. There was a better ALR way for the farm family to meet the intent. In fact they had already done so, with commission staff help, by the time of the outcry. As far as I can tell, it had been a win-win. (The commission avoided pointless carving up of the farm, and the family was still able to add a retirement home for the parents when the next generation took charge of the farm business.) Bennett managed to frame the matter as a problem. When politicians manipulate reality to put each other down, it’s like fighting in hockey between “willing combatants,” but doing it to the ALC is like a burly hockey league executive instigating a fight with a mild-mannered referee.
  • In the other case, a couple had a problem with the Kootenay River overflowing its banks, eroding their ranch. We sympathize, but it is not the ALC’s role to troubleshoot and fix that sort of problem. In contrast, it is something Pimm could have constructively addressed himself as Minister of Agriculture. The incident was like a second hockey league executive, in tandem with the first instigator, blaming the referee for a cancelled game after the visiting team started out too late to get there before a storm stopped them. Strengthening the preventive steps would be the league executives’ role, not a referee’s.

Furthermore, it seemed that the two ministers were unaware the commission was well into its Elk Valley boundary review, the first in a series of five ALR boundary reviews of the entire Regional District of East Kootenay. (Note: Most or all of the five are now underway, and there has always been a prominent link to the East Kootenay reviews on the ALC home page.)

The regional district is a large area (over 27,500 square kilometres) in the southeastern corner of British Columbia, as highlighted on this map.

Regional District of East Kootenay

In its systematic quasi-judicial way, the commission was already addressing the situations that Ministers Pimm and Bennett were grumbling about in the media. At the time, I was prepared to give the duo the benefit of the doubt that they simply didn’t know what was happening in the Pimm ministry and the Bennett riding.

In Kootenay East, a recent article in the Columbia Valley Pioneer shows how confused the Invermere council still is as an effect of the Bennett-Pimm havoc. Judging from “Council concerned about ALR changes,” the council has sent a letter to Bennett and Pimm, helping keep the cycle of havoc in motion.

Meanwhile, in Peace River North, there’s a maverick who built a rodeo grounds, seemingly with MLA/Minister Pimm’s at-least-tacit approval, after the commission turned it down as a non-ALR use on good agricultural land. (I’ve touched on it in this blog as Threat 2 in “Gratefulness can heal threats to the ALR legacy.”) Now the commission has come down firmly with enforcement, and the maverick has responded in a seemingly meek letter. That’s better, but one can tell from the commission’s letter, including a stop work order, that the havoc has cost a lot in commission resources, which were stretched thin as it was.

We need the havoc-wreaking ministers to put an end to what they’ve caused. We need them to should stop squandering resources, to right the record with the citizens of this province, and to give their full support—including full funding—to the Agricultural Land Commission.

Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission of British ColumbiaIt is ironic that the ill-informed and/or politically self-serving actions by the Bennett-Pimm duo have occurred in the guise of a core-services review. The review would supposedly enable more efficient delivery of government services. However, the Auditor General of British Columbia released a far more credible review, Audit of the Agricultural Land Commission, in September 2010. If the duo takes time to find out what’s happening, I think they’ll see that ALC chair Richard Bullock (right) has implemented the audit’s “Findings and Recommendations” in a systematic and transparent way.

With close collaboration and support from the then Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Steve Thomson, Mr. Bullock  commenced a province-wide review to fill out the practical knowledge needed to effectively implement the audit recommendations. Near the end of November 2010, Mr. Bullock put forward the review results in a planning document that is well described by its sub-title, Moving Forward: A Strategic Vision of the Agricultural Land Commission for Future Generations.

Unfortunately, with different Ministers of Agriculture, the government dragged its heals in restoring ALC funding, which had been cut back for years. Even now, in inflation-adjusted dollars, the funding has not been restored to what it was many years ago, let alone to what it should be for implementing the audit recommendations. However, the commission managed to proceed with effective action anyway. Mr. Bullock went on to provide a thorough update in August 2012 and a further update in October 2013. I anticipate there will continue to be annual updates. Mr. Bullock’s term as chair, which began in mid-2010, runs until the end of November 2015.

People’s minds and motivations are hard to read at the best of times, which these are not, so we can’t really know what the Bennett-Pimm duo have been thinking in their ALC adventure this past half year. For instance, is Minister Bennett more informed than he shows? In that case, is he trying to influence the commission to open the vault of agricultural land and let it be plundered in the current series of East Kootenay ALR-boundary reviews? We hope not, but the presumption of ignorance becomes harder to believe in as time goes on with no change of course—or at least none in public view. If the Bennet-Pimm duo won’t change course, maybe the captain needs to take the wheel.

With best wishes, here’s my gift of advice to Premier Christy Clark:

If your provincial government wants to get the core services review back on the rails, heading toward the original goal of efficient service, there’s one way with great promise of success. Simply hold up the 2010–14 leadership of the Agricultural Land Commission as an example of best practices.

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Ordinary British Columbians are just as deserving of the informed advice I can offer, which is this:

For ways to act, the Garden City Conservation Society endorsed Food for the Future, the Family Day rally organized by the Farmland Protection Coalition in Victoria on February 10, with related rallies in Summerland, Nelson and other locations around B.C. on and before that date.

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For a Richmond context for current threats to the ALR, read “Gratefulness can heal threats to the ALR legacy” on this blog.

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A very credible Friend of Garden City in East Kootenay phoned to respond to this article. He pointed to signs that the Bennett-Pimm approach has already influenced the ALC to relax its standards with recent ALR exclusion applications in that region. He also offered to send me a letter from Premier Christy Clark to Agriculture  After receiving it, I agree that my article understates the threat. I now think we are facing the greater threat that was implicit in Mark Hume’s writing in The Globe and Mail last November.

Update: For the latest re Richard Bullockgo here.

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2 Comments »

  1. 1
    Thomas Loo Says:

    Hello Jim,

    I just wanted to say hello from the Kootenays! Since my departure from the ALC back in Aug 2013, I’ve managed to rally some local Nelson-ites to let our government and the two ministers know to keep their “hands off the ALR”.

    I’ve been working with the BC Food Systems Network and we’ve organized a Town Hall meeting here on Feb 7th 2014. We’ve even got ex Minister of Agr and local Kootenay Farmer – Corky Evans coming out to helpout!

    Cheers!

    Thomas Loo


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