How is Frank Leonard a viable ALR chair?

Bill Bennett, Frank Leonard and Richard Bullock

Bill Bennett, Frank Leonard and Richard Bullock

Richard Bullock, the unlawfully fired chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, has wished the best to the person put into his job. Taking the Bullock cue, it’s fitting to wish the best to new ALC chair Frank Leonard.

Still, we’re alert to whether he’ll be a real protector of ALR farmland or a Bennett in Bullock clothing:

  • “Bennett” is Bill Bennett, the bombastic cabinet minister with a long-time crusade against the ALR, as you can see via a search for his name on this blog.
  • Bullock, along with founding ALC chair Gary Runka, is the gold standard for service in that role.

Interviews with Frank Leonard illustrate how hard it is to know what to make of him. Let’s look at an early one, a CBC Radio West interview soon after he was appointed. (It’s dated May 16, 2015.)

Interviewer: In your role now, what will you do, what sort of tack will you take, to ensure that farmland in B.C. is protected?

Frank Leonard: Well, that’s our mandate.

After a bit of wandering, more Frank Leonard: The best way, of course, for them to be preserved is for them to be financially viable too. And many times I hear from owners of farmland, ALR land especially, that they feel they’re carrying a burden for the rest of society, that they can’t earn a living off it, that they have to do other things in their lives to almost moonlight as a farmer, and I want to talk to those folks and help them make it economically viable, and if it’s viable, then the pressure on trying to take it out of the ALR is taken away in my view. So that may be naïve or idealistic, but in the time I have to be chair of the commission, that will be part of my guiding principles.

In a Justine Hunter interview in The Globe and Mail, half a month later (June 2, 2015), Leonard is on the same viability theme. In essence, his carefully chosen words are the same.

Of course, viable in an ALR context has always been code for “economically most lucrative.” A Bennett would allow weasel-word “viability” as grounds for excluding ALR land or allowing incompatible uses to take it over. In contrast, a Bullock wouldn’t abide that.

Frank Leonard is evidently trying to give the impression that he wouldn’t either. Instead, he indicates that he wants to help farmers to make a good living from farming ALR land. That would clearly be in keeping with the purposes of the Agricultural Land Commission. Bullock-like.

However, Leonard’s farmer-as-victim examples are vintage Bennett, whose idea of consulting to gut the Agricultural Land Commission Act was to sit around griping about the ALR with his farmland-owning buddies who don’t want to farm.

It definitely isn’t fair to assume that Frank Leonard is a lapdog for Bennett and the anti-ALR faction with far too much sway in the provincial government. Whether he will rise to the occasion, as ALC chairs typically do, still remains to be seen, but it is certainly possible.

____________

Postscript—this writer’s optimism:

Like Frank Leonard, I don’t want to be naïve and will keep an open mind. However, I’m optimistic for an unusual kind of reason: his background as a Kal Tire manager.

Long ago, I happened to help Kal Tire with a workforce performance improvement project prompted by their intent to expand fast, which meant coming up with a lot of additional managers who would maintain their high standards. I found that Kal Tire didn’t need to do much more than revise their store operations manual to make it a great job aid, and it was pleasantly interesting to work with their VP of stores to do that.

Their president was still co-founder Tom Foord, past retirement age but loving his work and encouraging the whole Kal Tire team to make a profit so Kal Tire could continue to provide good service. From the personal experience, I actually found that ideal to be believable.

Far from thinking that the Kal Tire background is irrelevant for Frank Leonard in his new role, I’d like to think he’s still a Kal Tire manager at heart. In that case, he’ll be far more of a Bullock than a Bennett.

____________

Thank You Richard Bullock card: You can still sign a virtual card to express support for Richard Bullock, who did such a great job for the people of British Columbia as a true champion of farmland and farming families. Please do so. For background, you could read “Standing strong in the bizarre saga of the ALR.”

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