B.C. farmers need help, but Bill 24 will lead to annihilation

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To the Editor:

(Open letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark)

Yes, farmers need help. B.C. farmers are struggling to earn enough income from selling their products and they are burning out. That old joke that says, “Did you hear about poor Tom? His father died and left him the farm,” is never more true.

So, on that note, I commend the B.C. provincial government for wanting to step in under the umbrella of due diligence and lend a hand. But Bill 24? This isn’t it.

Provincial taxpayers have for years subsidized our farmers by picking up the tab for farmers who bought land in the Agricultural Land Reserve at a reduced cost, paid fewer taxes due to residential and commercial taxpayers making up the difference, and earning income in whole or in part on land where that was permitted.

While 90 per cent of applications for withdrawal from Agricultural Land Reserve were made by developers seeking to create residential developments for supposed homebuyers who were now going to get their food from a reduced arena, the Agricultural Land Commission in many cases denied applications knowing their mandate was steadfast.

Now we have a proposal through Bill 24 to increase bureaucracy with panels, which, according to the act, have “all the powers, duties and functions of the commission in relation to an application or other matter referred to it, and a decision of a panel is for all purposes a decision of the commission.”

Now we have a proposal through Bill 24 to provide supposed opportunities to farmers to augment their farming income with other business ventures that may or may not be agricultural, thus sidestepping the original intent of the ALR.

As a taxpayer, I have reviewed the Water Sustainability Act and I took part in its upgraded inception through the many opportunities offered to me. As a member of the advisory planning commission for my area, I engaged in detailed scrutiny of my area’s official community plan and helped to enact changes at the grass roots level that would make our local planning more effective. My time, as well as my tax dollars, participated in these processes.

So, my question is as follows: Why is the Minister of Energy and Mines, through a core review that has not sought adequate input from the general public or from farmers themselves, being allowed, through the introduction of Bill 24, to redesign the structure of the ALC and the ALR?

My suspicion is that it is to deny independence to this body and to degrade its effectiveness.

My suspicion is that it is to provide avenues of approach for resource extraction on farmland.

My suspicion is that it is not to enhance farmers’ efficacy or income, but to make Tom glad he inherited the farm by chopping up farmland in an unprecedented opportunity to make fast profit and the aforementioned subsidizing taxpayers can now pay more for their food because it will be grown on less farmland and on land that will cost so much more, which only large conglomerates will be able to afford farming.

We are slowly killing off our farmers. They need more help, not annihilation.

Let’s interface with all taxpayers as was done for the review of the Water Sustainability Act and find the best ways to help them to be farmers, but successful and profitable farmers. Then, and only then, if it is apparent that some or none of the ideas in Bill 24 are good ones, we can all move forward as members of one zone with a clear vision and purpose to make farming the dream of the future not the nightmare of the past.

Pat Martin