British Columbians can be forgiven for believing their provincial government may not be entirely sincere when they claim to support local agriculture.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett stirred up suspicion a while back when he hinted the Agricultural Land Commission may be looked at in a core review he’s heading up to find $50 million in savings. The future of the ALC, the independent body tasked with overseeing the protection of agricultural land, became increasingly cloudy last week when cabinet documents leaked to the media were made public. These were reported to reveal a strategy drawn up for Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm to bring the ALC under the ministry’s jurisdiction and break up the province into two agricultural zones, including a vast northern zone where the province’s Oil and Gas Commission would have greater say in applications to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Bennett has denied all of this, stating there are no plans to do away with the ALC and noting the current budget includes $4 million to help the ALC make better decisions when determining what is good agricultural land. Ironically, Pimm is now under fire for attempting to interfere with the ALC for doing just that.
The agriculture minister, a former oil and gas man of 25 years, tried to intervene in an application to turn a parcel of viable farmland in the ALR into rodeo grounds and a campground. Pimm and his staff contacted the ALC on more than one occasion during the decision-making process to support the application, arguing the land should be removed from the ALR. The commission turned down the application and, in its decision, took the Peace River North MLA to task, suggesting he was trying to politically influence their decision.
It should be no surprise then, that Pimm and the B.C. government would seek to put the ALC out to pasture and open up the ALR to a future where local food security ranks even lower than rodeo grounds, never mind liquid natural gas extraction.