B.C. Farmers’ Advocacy Office up for review

The office has been in the province for more than five years, helping rural landowners deal with oil and gas activity

The Farmers’ Advocacy Office in British Columbia is up for review as officials determine whether the service is still warranted or if it should change.

The Peace River Regional District board voted in late August for the third-party review of the service. It’s expected to be complete before the beginning of March.

“What we’re looking at is if the service is still relevant, what they’re doing, can it be improved and should it go on,” said Brad Sperling, board chair of the regional district.

The advocacy office has been in the province for more than five years, helping rural landowners deal with oil and gas activity on their property.

While he hasn’t heard of any negative feedback about the service, Sperling said the review is still necessary.

“For transparency purposes, the review is important,” he said.

“We need to find out how things are going. Just going on hearsay is not always the proper way to do things.”

Renee Ardill, a rancher in the Fort St. John area, said she would support the continuation of the office. She has used the service to get advice on how to deal with a pipeline going through her land.

“I think the office is a very good thing,” said Ardill, a board director with the British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association.

“It gives people somewhere to go for information. When it comes to oil and gas, most of the farmers don’t know much about it.”

The review will also help officials determine whether the office should go beyond helping farmers deal with oil and gas issues. The installation of wind turbines has become increasingly popular, which creates a host of other problems.

“Looking at wind would be a good thing because everything has its own unique set of problems,” Ardill said.

As well, if the district determines the office can remain, it’s expected that there will be debate over how it should be funded.

Both the district and the province fund the office, but some say it might be best for funding to come solely from the district.

Anne Clayton, owner of Aspen Grove Property Services, which was contracted to operate the advocacy office, said having funding from the province could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

The province helps facilitate the oil and gas industry, she added, so any funds toward the advocacy office, which helps farmers deal with oil and gas issues, could be viewed negatively by landowners.

“I’m not saying the regional district is opposed to industry, but it does represent rural landowners,” she said.

“It’s something landowners would have more trust in.”

As well, she said the office has been receiving pushback from the province, alleging that the office was told it was exceeding the intent of its contract.

“We likely wouldn’t have that pushback from the district, at least I don’t think we would,” Clayton said.

However, Sperling said it could be argued that the office should receive provincial funding because oil and gas activity is a provincial issue.

“Until we have this review done, we’re not really going to know how the funding will work,” he said.

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