Standing strong in the bizarre saga of the ALR

Richard Bullock at Kalamalka RotaryOn May 14, Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), was furtively fired from that Agricultural Land Reserve tribunal for doing his job. With cabinet misfits biting at his ankles, he had stood up for farming and the ALR, which has protected B.C. farmland for over forty years.

Does it matter? Yes! The California water crisis makes the ALR more vital than ever. Meanwhile, an anti-ALR faction in cabinet endangers our farmland. They’ve now thwarted the tribunal by removing its chair—with more than half a year left in his term.

Why was Bullock appointed ALC chair? Results! He had succeeded as leader of agricultural companies, industry groups and the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board. And he lived the ALR principles.

What went well in Bullock’s term? A lot! In 2010, he led a province-wide ALR review, along with the agriculture minister. He melded the resulting insights with the auditor general’s advice in his thorough strategic vision. It was a blueprint to modernize the ALC/ALR.

For instance, he refined an application panel approach—with seven commissioners from all over B.C.—that kept the diversity of regional panels but shed their inconsistency. He also brought back ALR boundary reviews, an efficient way to exclude (or add) ALR land that’s out of place. His ongoing reports showed steady progress.

What went wrong? Bill Bennett. In early August 2013, when the ALC was conducting East Kootenay boundary reviews, Bennett grabbed the headlines to complain about ALC decisions that annoyed him and his buddies. He was the local MLA and the minister responsible for mines and a murky “core review,” and he threatened to drag the ALC into it.

Then what? In March 2014, Bennett held a media briefing in Victoria to hype a coming ALR bill with his anti-ALC complaints. None stand up to analysis. For instance, Bennett complained that a buddy wasn’t allowed to extend a gravel pit on an ALR farm, but it turned out that Bennett’s own mines ministry had rejected it. A Cranbrook farm owner Bennett brought in to castigate the ALC turned out to want to build a motel or prison on ALR farmland.

Was the ALR bill as bad as that? Yes! It’s been aptly called “the bill to kill the ALR.” For instance, the new “Zone 2” would turn most of the ALR into an “Anything Land Reserve.” A suffocating factor for the ALC was the layers of bureaucratic busy-work the bill imposed. Despite a public uproar, it got pushed through.

What averted disaster? Norm Letnick. After settling in as agriculture minister, Letnick swept some of the damage aside and teamed with Bullock to consult around B.C. on ALR regulations last summer. The government’s summary showed that the stakeholder groups—farmers/ranchers, local governments and the public—all want a strong ALR/ALC. We looked forward to regulations in that spirit.

Then what happened? The regulations, due in November 2014, are six months late, so Letnick has likely faced a long struggle in cabinet. Now they’ve disabled the ALC’s independence by firing Bullock. It all bodes ill for the coming ALR regulations.

What values can we still affirm in hope? We believe in food security for all. We believe in conserving our farmland for present and future needs, not for land speculation. We appreciate true public servants like Richard Bullock who help us make our province better.

How can one give due thanks? Google “Thank you, Richard Bullock!” You’ll reach a virtual Thank You card. Sign your name. That’s a good start.


This article was earlier published online as a Richmond Review column with the same title, and it appeared in the printed paper of May 20. In place of Richard Bullock, Frank Leonard was appointed as Chair of the Agricultural Land Commission.


  1. 1
    Summerishere Says:

    It is a glaring slap in the face to integrity and honest values of people trying to uphold their jobs to the highest of principles. It does not leave me much hope there is any left. I have witnessed for nearly two decades the sad demise of integrity and extreme politicking, to all our detriment with this Clark govt, her predecessor kicked out, Campbell and his tragedies of decisions politically motivated.
    I live,in trsawassen and have witnessed the Dangerous Precedent decision of Southlands. Despite no social Licence here every democratic tool that was used was a resounding majority NO. Our municipality under Lois Jackson changed the goal posts continuously. It was not pretty or nice and has left a forever deep divide here.
    Finally it went to Metro for a decision. After very very expensive meals by developers with decision makers it barely passed. However it is another slice of farmland loss. And more light pollution, noise and environmental degradation to occur. I refer to this because I know how hard people work to just have integrity.
    I am grateful to all of the work you have done on behalf of farmland.

  2. 2
    pennystreet546 Says:

    Thanks. I hadn’t heard or read anything about this in the media, and it’s so important!

  3. 3
    Sigurd B. Peterson. P.Ag. FAIC. Says:

    It is hugely disappointing when a government relies on the complaints of a small minority as leverage to dismiss an out standing public servant for doing his duty as the law dictates and in keeping with the intent and spirit of the legislation. Richard is a man of strong integrity, possessing the widest knowledge of provincial agricultural matters.the position demands. The agriculture industry is left the poorer by this ill advised dismissal. Thanks Richard for a job well done!

    • 4
      Jacqueline Bullock Says:

      Thank you Sig. Richard is humbled by your comments. You were a huge influence and a mentor to him through many years. You as the architect of the ALR and its forward looking legislation your comments are hugely important to both him and I and anyone who cares about our agriculture in this Province. Best regards Jacqui

      • 5
        Josephine Mitchell, 530 Witty Beach Road, Victoria BC, V9C 4H8 Says:

        As a three term councillor with the District of Metchosin and as Council Liaison with our Agricultural Advisory Committee, I had several meetings with Richard, and was always totally amazed at his knowledge of BC’s agriculture, and the problems even small municipalities like Metchosin faced in coping with continual government inroads on the ALC from adjacent municipalities working to remove land for housing development. I cannot begin to express my dismay when I heard of his summary dismissal.
        All I can do is thank Richard for the incredible fight he put up on behalf of all our farmers, and let him know how very very much his efforts were appreciated,

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