Encore: The bill to kill the ALR

In April 2014, this article appeared as one of my “Digging Deep” columns in the Richmond Review, in print and online. Because the Review is now in a different newspaper chain, the online version is gone. I’m therefore belatedly publishing it here for everyone’s reference, exactly as it appeared then. Be aware that all the links worked at the time, but many of them target pages that have now been removed or change, especially on the ALC website. The photo shows Richard Bullock interacting with a group of citizens.

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The bill to kill the ALR

Richard Bullock, ALC chairB.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.

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.

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 may help that Norm Letnick has become Minister of Agriculture. Perhaps the powers-that-be will now back Richard Bullock’s integrity with their integrity.

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2 Comments »

  1. 1
    Ian Hunter Says:

    On Jan 26 2015 there was a two minute report regarding an Okanagan man on urban farming in Kelowna. Curtis Stone grows produce on 1/3 of an acre an sells 80% of his produce to local high end restaurants and farmers markets. He is one of the leading experts in Canada in urban farming for a profit. He claims to make up to $100,000 on 1/2 acre of land. He also does speaking presentations on urban farming. He is publishing a book this fall about making a good living on small scale farming with a commercial greenhouse.

  2. 2
    Ian Hunter Says:

    Sorry. That report was on Global Okanagan


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