Cranbrook Council wants details on ALR review

The BC government is looking at changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve, but has not released information on what those changes will be.

The provincial government is looking at making changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve, but has not released information on what those changes will be.

The ALR is overseen by the Agricultural Land Commission with a mandate to protect the scarce supply of agricultural land in the province.

At council on Monday, Nov. 25, mayor and councillors discussed documents from the District of North Saanich that brought up that district’s concerns with the lack of consultation on the potential changes to the ALR.

Included in the documents was a report from BC Food Systems Network which noted the changes represent a major shift in policy from the province. Minister Bill Bennett has targeted the ALR and ALC as part of the Core Review, which he is responsible for.

“There are potentially some changes coming and it’s not exactly clear what those changes are,” Mayor Wayne Stetski said. “But there’s been a lot of concern expressed around the province about the future of protecting agriculture land in the province.”

Coun. Sharon Cross said she had some real concern after reading through the correspondence documents and the potential consequences it could have on faming in B.C.

“At the UBCM, municipalities all across B.C. unanimously supported the return of the farm gate sales,” Cross said. “Also our farmer’s market has an economic impact of over $1 million yearly.”

Cross wanted council to consider a motion.

“A number of municipalities are also expressing considerable concern and have put forward some resolutions,” she said. “The response time concluded in October 2013, however by the time of the announcement, one hearing had already taken place. So consultation around the province has not been very widely engaging.”

CAO Staudt said he didn’t know what the time limit was to get input to the province on this issue or how fast it is moving on these changes.

“I have not seen anything other than this come forward as to any implementation date of any of those changes,” Staudt said.

Coun. Denise Pallesen wanted more information on the timeline. Coun. Diana J. Scott agreed and asked to wait on a motion.

“I appreciate the need to look into the matter more, but we’re only one side here and we have an MLA here who’s probably very well versed in why the province has decided what it’s decided and the ramifications for our area in particular, which is most important to us.”

Scott said having information from Minister Bennett or his office in their next council package would help make a more balanced decision.

Coun. Gerry Warner agreed and wanted to hear more from the government side before commenting.

Stetski said from his perspective it is a confusing process.

“Absolutely the agricultural land reserve is critical to the future of our province,” Stetski said. “I think the Agricultural Land Commission has been doing a great job the last couple of years of protecting agricultural land. The (ALR) does need to be reviewed provincially to make sure the land that’s in the ALR is the right land — I do believe there is some wrong land in the ALR.”

Stetski agreed that requesting information from Bennett was likely the best option.

Coun. Bob Whetham has been involved with the ALR since its implementation in the early 70s and said it’s been a checkered history.

“I think the intent has always been good, but sometimes the execution has fallen a bit short,” Whetham said. “I’m fully supportive of an initiative that recognizes the importance of agriculture, but there are a couple of pieces that are missing out of the equation. I think they’ve been ignored all the way through.”

Whetham said, for instance, as long as there is a financial inequity to the land owner having land in the ALR, there will be a strong incentive to take it out. He said a system that actually compensates land owners reasonably for having the ALR regulations put on their property is needed.

Whetham said he’s seen the biggest squabbles over land that is of poor quality, while some good agricultural land has been taken out.