The bill to kill the ALR

BCALRcities

B.C.’s current Bill 24 would end the fragile independence of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). Through that and direct means, it would end ALR farmland protection as we know it.

It also smacks of reprisal against the chair of the ALC. This past year he’s had to rebuff political interference, at one point publicly.

The bill to kill the ALR is not yet law. The ALR—B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve—can still be saved and strengthened.

(The map shows the ALR in green.)

To get to the source of the mess, let’s recall the day Bill 24 was unveiled. Minister Bill Bennett held a media party. He “could not contain his excitement,” says Vaughn Palmer.

Proud papa Bennett is not an ALR fan, and the pretense for Bill 24 is a gimmick called “ALR core review.” Since no one gets to see it, the “review” is as bad as he wants.

To be fair, Bennett did get ideas from his Kootenay East constituents. At the media event, one of them said her children might build a prison or motel on ALR land.

Bennett said, “If I was going to point to one aspect of the ALC that people in my region really don’t like, it’s the fact that they apply and they get turned down by, essentially, bureaucrats who live in the Lower Mainland.” Stirs local pride, but false.

As the Agricultural Land Commission website shows, ALC commissioners live in five of the six regions. There’s one apiece in the Kootenay region and South Coast, which includes the Lower Mainland. The ALC panels meet in their regions.

Bennett implied that Cranbrook, where he lives, has no local food. But the ALC’s Cranbrook commissioner produces free-range beef.

Bennett said the bill would allow farmers to do “canning or making jams or cheese or wine.” What? Within reason they’ve always been ALR uses.

Bennett complained that a constituent was stopped from mining gravel. But it was the mines ministry that turned it down. That’s Bennett’s ministry.

Bennett whined about bad local land stuck in the ALR. But the ALC is doing an ALR boundary review in Kootenay East. It implements the Auditor General’s advice, and Bennett may have slowed it to a standstill. He then blames the ALC for problems they were solving.

Bennett did admit confusion and mentioned he didn’t consult for Bill 24. True! He didn’t even consult the ALC chair, Richard Bullock.

Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, listens to the Kalamalka Rotary.Bullock is a successful farmer, business leader and public servant. It shows in his ALC work, a model of best practice.

Bullock became chair in mid-2010, just before the Auditor General’s report on the ALC. Starting with that, he consulted around the province.

Bullock wrote a thorough strategic vision. Since then, he keeps sharing updates about process and progress. Sadly, he had to issue a policy statement about the role of elected officials in applications to the ALC—prompted by political interference.

Now, analysis shows that Bill 24 demotes Bullock’s role. It transfers the duty of chairing the ALC tribunal to six chairs. In effect, that shift results in six tribunals with differing standards. Bullock isn’t allowed to chair any.

He is left out. The vague bill is clear about that. He will no longer be even consulted when the ministry selects ALC commissioners and panel chairs.

Bullock also acts as chief executive, but he’s to lose that too. The bill, which does nil for farmland and farming, does promise him waves of rules and requirements.

The ALR is a provincial land use zone. The bill slices it into two and then six. In zoning terms, we’ll have ALR1A, ALR1B, ALR1C, ALR2A, ALR2B and ALR2C.

The bill enables the agriculture minister to quickly take control of the tribunals. Not that it matters in ALR2A–C, nine-tenths of the ALR. Self-serve rubber stamps might do.

Why? The bill says the tribunals there must consider “economic, social and cultural values,” which means “anything,” in ALR decisions. Welcome to the Anything Land Reserve.

Is the California drought a myth? Is it time to kill the ALR? If no, what’s next?

It helps that Norm Letnick, who doesn’t hate the ALR, has become Minister of Agriculture. Maybe the powers-that-be will now back Richard Bullock’s integrity with their integrity.

______________

In any case, we can add our names on the online thank you card” to Richard Bullock and his ALC team. Each day, as more people give thanks, the Bullock team receives their names.

Now that we have an agriculture minister who would like to listen, a copy of the Thank You card is going to Norm Letnick each day too.

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This post is based on my Digging Deep column in the Richmond Review titled “Value the chair of the Anything Land Reserve (ALR).”

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4 Comments »

  1. 1
    Thomas Loo Says:

    Hi Jim, I just wanted to add a couple thing to your fantastic review & summary. For Richard to “lose” the ability to be CEO is actually what he himself recommended . See link below to Chair’s Message at ALC.

    The Act makes the Chair and CEO the same job, but really they’re quite different. The Chair is part of the “political body” while the CEO is more like the Judge for C&E as well as delegated decision making like on the Notice Of Intents or certain applications like utilities in existing corridors. They’ve done a great job in stream lining stuff in an effort to work with the limited resources.

    The other important point is that Richard’s audit and recommendation was to go to a smaller panel – again his reasons were both for efficiency and the ability to engage all the Commissioners in a thoughtful debate (I think that is what he said), but the Gov’t in their wisdom decided to go the opposite way and have a larger panel with regional members. The worry was that the regional system would lose sight of some of the Provincial scope.

    Thomas

    http://www.alc.gov.bc.ca/publications/Message_from_the_Chair_March6_2014_Final.pdf

    • 2
      kewljim Says:

      Thanks, Thomas!

      I agree with Richard Bullock that the smaller number of commissioners is better. There is more opportunity to build up expertise.

      In any case, a likely aim of increasing the number of commissioners is to be able to appoint a lot of commissioners who agree with the Bennett view of things. With two commissioners completing their terms in a couple of months and the chair not serving on panels, the seven current commissioners would be down to only four (on panels). Since eight more would need to be appointed, the new appointees would outnumber the holdovers by a 2:1 ratio.

      • 3
        Thomas Loo Says:

        You’re probably right on that one. I think part of the key to our fight against Bill 24 is to be able to show that the Govt is not following the recommendations in the Chair’s report, the lack of consultation, and that the current regulations already allow for the things that Mr. Bennett has said is “needed”. I think if we keep the pressure on and hold town halls to show “facts” to poke holes in their modernization, then hopefully the outcome will be a process like the ALC did a few years ago there the stakeholders and public could meet and tell them what the needs are. Then if change is wanted, it should happen in a thoughtful manner, like the boundary review in East Koots!

    • 4
      kewljim Says:

      Thomas, I was aware that the “board” had changed the role of one of the executive directors to deputy chief executive officer, and I see that again when reviewing the March 2014 message from the chair. However, that is not the same as the further step mentioned in the press release for Bill 24 about a chief executive officer being appointed. When it happens when most of the chair’s other roles are being taken away, that’s not good.

      Furthermore, Richard Bullock’s role as chair of the “board” is not the same when the increase from two vice chairs (other board members) to six (if an when the bill becomes law) means that the people working to reduce the power of the ALC and the current chair can choose at least four new vice chairs (a board majority).


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