Policy shift may curb B.C. land reserve reform

Agricultural development | New council votes against proposal

Efforts to reform agricultural land policy in British Columbia have hit a snag.

Paul Gevatkoff, chair of the Agricultural Land Reform Society, believed that proposed changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve were in sight when Bill 24 was introduced in the provincial legislature in March.

After four years of lobbying, Gevat-koff hoped farmers in northern B.C. would finally have the freedom to subdivide their land, carve a farm yard out of a home quarter or even start a business on the farm.

These are all things that aren’t allowed under the ALR, which was set up 40 years ago to protect agricultural land in B.C.

“It’s just wrong, it’s not right,” said Gevatkoff.

“The Agricultural Land Reserve is very archaic.”

The changes would have allowed farmers in B.C.’s Interior and the north to split a half section into two quarter sections or allow a retired couple to carve out their farm site from the quarter section instead of moving to town to live.

“We’re in favour of all the changes,” said Gevatkoff, one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reform Society, which was formed four years ago to lobby for changes to the ALR.

Farms in the heavily populated south would still face tough rules to protect the valuable farmland from development.

The B.C. Agriculture Council, which represents 14,000 farmers, supported Bill 24.

The bill proposed dividing the province into two zones: the north and Interior with a scattered population would follow different ALR rules than the densely populated southern part of the province.

“We’re looking forward to the changes,” Rhonda Driediger, chair of the B.C. Ag Council, told a news conference in mid-April.

Then Driediger retired, and two weeks later the new council voted unanimously to oppose the changes to the ALR.

“Looking forward, Bill 24 has yet to pass. It is the position of the B.C. Agriculture Council that as currently written, Bill 24 threatens the sus-tainability of agriculture in B.C.,” Stan Vander Waal, the new chair of BCAC, said in a news release.

With that change of direction, Gevatkoff is worried urban voices in Vancouver will drown out their concerns.

“The Agricultural Land Reserve is an emotional issue especially for people that live in the city and they associate it with food production,” he said.

“They are predominantly down in the Fraser Valley and try to dictate what we do. We are very concerned.”

Norm Letnick, B.C.’s new agriculture minister, met with BCAC members about their concerns April 23.

“It was a good productive meeting,” said Letnick.

He said they worked through Bill 24 in detail to allow the BCAC members and himself to understand what was being proposed and why.

“There was good discussion, and we agreed to continue consultation,” he said.

“I have a clearer understanding of how it works and what it really means on the ground.”

Letnick said he plans to host a telephone town hall meeting to hear other opinions about the ALR. He will also be reviewing letters and emails about the proposed bill.

“My job as member for agriculture is to reflect on what I hear and see and collect information and make recommendations,” he said.

“I want to have a good handle on the bill before going to colleagues. The Agricultural Land Reserve is something very important to British Columbians and to me as a minister.”

Gevatkoff said he understands the farming pressures are different in the province’s Lower Mainland than in the Peace River area and believes that’s why there needs to be different rules for different parts of the province.

“We recognize we are not the Fraser Valley. The high value agriculture land is really under pressure.”

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