Richmond could learn from ALR consultation

Note: This column and the one above it were published as “Digging Deep” columns in the Richmond Review. I’m adding them here in th“2014 Richmond election” category because consultation is an issue.   If you’re reading both, the message will be clearest if you start with the above one.

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Norm LetnickIt’s great when government gets it right. Minister Norm Letnick and his Ministry of Agriculture team have done it again with their consultation about ALR regulations.

In Digging Deep two months ago, I said the consultation seemed genuine, and I implied it was worth taking part. Plenty of citizens—from here and all regions—did act. The newly shared results seem fine for food security.

A faction in B.C.’s governing party may still hinder the process, which reduces harm from a previous minister’s Bill 24. In the spring, they rammed that ALR bill into law in defiance of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) and the public. This time around, the new minister has involved the ALC and public.

As a bonus, Richmond can learn from the ministry consultation. With that in mind, let’s focus on a few aspects.

For engagement to become consultation, it has to be heeded. For me, the ministry’s heeding began early on when I let the project leader know about a survey flaw and a way to fix it. She acted fast, making the survey results more reliable.

Before that, the minister and his team had heeded those who could help them get their bearings. The know-how came from the B.C. Agriculture Council, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and especially the ALC. It led to a dozen useful questions about regulations. The ALC also cleaned up clutter to keep things simple.

Then the ministry team, ALC included, toured the province to listen to the range of stakeholders in each region. The twelve questions were the framework. For the final month, an online survey was added, with public input on the questions welcome by email and mail too. Along the way, the team engaged with First Nations.

From the thorough summary of responses, I’m confident that views were weighed well. For example, form letters got less weight than individual responses but were still heeded. Since almost all the questions start with proposed changes, the summary shows the big for-and-against picture for each. A wealth of subtler findings fills it out.

I compared the results with an incisive analysis the B.C. Food Systems Network had done. The BCFSN, which excels at policy analysis, is a foremost champion of B.C. food security. In the big picture, the survey results didn’t differ much from the BCFSN choices.

Since polls show terrific support for the ALR and food security, I would expect the broad results from well-done consultation to be consistent with the BCFSN analysis. The achieved consistency builds confidence in the next phase, implementation, where heeding matters most.

The consultation for Bill 24 was mostly ministers chatting with their buddies, and the current related consultation is a sea-change from that. A key factor is the new minister who makes the most of the ALC, all sorts of stakeholders, and ministry talent—resources that were there all along.

In Richmond, the sea-change from deficient consultation will require a proactive council with the courage to set firm expectations for staff, including valid consultation that builds on the best of local know-how.

A final caution: Be aware that the ministry consultation about ALR regulations only reduces the harm from the ALR bill that prompted it. That ugly monument to non-consultation should still be scrapped.

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