(From left) Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson and Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall paying a visit to Kootenay Meadows dairy farmer Nadine Ben-Rabha.

(From left) Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson and Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall paying a visit to Kootenay Meadows dairy farmer Nadine Ben-Rabha.

In Your Corner: Agricultural Land Reserve important to Creston Valley economy

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Agriculture is an important part of the Kootenay economy, most notably in the Creston Valley. Much of the land on which we grow our local food is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve. To show off all that we grow on ALR, I invited my suburban colleague, MLA Selina Robinson, from Coquitlam to tour farms in the valley.

No surprise, she was blown away by all that is grown here. She got why I eat a 100-mile diet. And she left here understanding exactly why we need to save the ALR from Bill 24.

First, a bit of background: The ALR was founded in 1973 under the BC New Democrat government led by Dave Barrett. It puts some of B.C.’s limited farmable land under one zone to protect its value for growing our food. For 40 years, the ALR, with its independent governing body, the Agricultural Land Commission, has proven itself a good practice, and many of its staunchest critics are now its staunchest supporters.

Bill 24, the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, was introduced in the legislature a few weeks ago and will be up for debate when the assembly resumes April 28. This bill makes sweeping changes to our ALR.

Specifically, it breaks ALR up into two zones overseen by six government-appointed regional panels. Zone 1 won’t see many changes, but Zone 2 is to be managed quite differently. Zone 2 panels would be required to consider “economic, cultural and social values”, “regional and community planning objectives” and “other prescribed conditions” as set out by cabinet.

So if the government of day prioritizes something other than agriculture, like liquid natural gas or housing development, for example, then the panels must favour that priority above farming. The Creston Valley, like 90 per cent of ALR land, is in Zone 2.

When Selina and I spoke with local farmers, they were clear that breaking up the ALR will have devastating impacts on the viability of their farms. Any farmer who works land owned by someone else knows that their business is dependent on their tenancy. Under Bill 24, tenant farmers are put at greater risk because their landlord could pull their land out of the ALR with no long-term analysis required by an independent body. Instead, a panel of political appointees, who may or may not have any experience in farming, will decide the fate of our farmers’ businesses and our food security.

With such major changes to land policy, you may be wondering what was said in the public consultation phase — that is, if there was one. Citizens concerned about potential changes to the ALR were told to speak to the legislative assembly’s finance committee midway through its tour of B.C. Not only were most presentation spots booked by this time, but after sitting on the finance committee for two years, I can say confidently that this is absolutely not the venue for public consultation on the ALR. That said, the Liberals utterly failed British Columbia by refusing public consultation on such significant changes to land policy.

Like many local governments, the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG) is unhappy about this lack of consultation. At last week’s AGM, it called on the government to hold off on Bill 24 until proper public consultation takes place.

If you agree with the AKBLG and I that Bill 24 has to be stopped and that people need to have a say in the proposed major changes — especially when the Liberals said they wouldn’t make such changes during the election, then go to www.savethealr.ca to send the premier a message. I know I can count on you to voice your concerns just as you can count on me, and now Selina, to stand up in the legislature for the Creston Valley’s economy.

Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.