Norm Letnick, Christy Clark’s latest agriculture minister, is acknowledging that there has not been real consultation to allow for the Liberals’ Bill 24 to move forward, say the New Democrats.
“Mr. Letnick’s latest public comments reflect that the Liberals never received any mandate from farmers and British Columbians across this province to make such sweeping changes to B.C.’s revered Agricultural Land Reserve that undermine our food security and farming sector,” said New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix. “Not only did the Liberals not campaign on changing the ALR, after entering office they never once consulted on this legislation.”
Letnick acknowledged Wednesday that the opposition to the legislation from within the agriculture sector is causing him to revisit the government’s lack of consultation on the legislation.
“This legislation impacts farmers and ranchers, but it also affects every British Columbian,” said New Democrat agriculture critic Nicholas Simons. “The decision to protect land suitable for agriculture 40 years ago was for the benefit of future generations. Having two zones and the ‘regional panels’ make decisions about agricultural land too political.”
“One of the Liberals’ primary premises for Bill 24 – that a majority of farmland in the ALR outside of Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley and Okanagan, is not productive farmland – has been thoroughly discredited by experts, who have informed the premier that the opposite is true,” said New Democrat small business critic Lana Popham.
“This not only reveals the Liberals’ lack of knowledge on the true overall value of the ALR, it reinforces that they never held any informed consultation on the ALR as part of the Core Review process that led this legislation. Real consultation would have resulted in better public policy that truly supports farmers, farming and our food security. Until such consultation takes place, Bill 24 needs to be shelved.”
A letter soil experts sent to the premier last week unequivocally stated that Bill 24 was putting at risk millions of hectares of high-class agriculture land located in the Interior, the Kootenays, and the north.
Dix and Popham were in Kamloops Thursday meeting with agriculture groups as part of the Official Opposition’s ongoing effort to pressure the Liberals to shelve Bill 24, and to adopt legislative measures that actually promote farming, productivity in the ALR and B.C.’s food security. To achieve these ends, Dix has tabled the BC Local Food Act, which is being endorsed by agriculture groups including B.C. Local Food Systems and Farm to Cafeteria Canada.
The main elements of the legislation include implementing a comprehensive strategy on government purchasing locally grown food; reintroducing the successful Buy BC program; mandating a legislative committee on food and agriculture to prepare, in consort with the agriculture minister, a plan to increase local food production, marketing, and processing. The plan would set targets and implement policies to meet those targets which would be reported on annually in the legislature.