Just a week after the release of an independent panel’s 134-page report urging the B.C. government to “make hard legal, administrative and program choices” to protect the province’s farmland, the Ministry of Agriculture has said no new changes are anticipated soon.
Last Tuesday, the government released the report, which included 32 recommendations. A handful of those had already been included in an interim report issued last July and which prompted two new laws. But the report, which was written after more than a year of work and feed back from thousands of people, also included many new recommendations, including raising the threshold to qualify for tax status and that local governments consider creating “industrial land reserves.”
The document released last week acknowledged the interim report, but said twice that “New Committee recommendations are equally critical and urgent and require immediate action on the part of the Province.”
But a brief email sent to The News Wednesday by a Ministry of Agricultural spokesperson said the government isn’t planning to follow up on any of the those new recommendations.
“The B.C. government’s focus is on giving the ALC the tools they need to support farmers and ranchers and attracting and helping farmers succeed,” the report said. “The actions in Bill 15 and 52 respond to the committee’s report, as well as the input received during the public and stakeholder consultation process, and additional changes are not being advanced at this time.”
Agriculture minister Lana Popham, though, said later Wednesday that it wasn’t correct to say the report has been shelved.
She said her ministry’s staff has enough work on its hands in crafting new rules to implement the recently passed legislation to consider additional changes soon.
“We have our hands full at the moment so nothing is being advanced now.”
The province’s Bill 52 has already passed, while Bill 15 was introduced in March. They addressed the ALR’s structure, implemented new rules regarding the illegal dumping of construction waste, established a maximum house size and changed the Agricultural Land Commission’s governance structure.
Popham said regulations for Bill 15, should it pass as expected, will occupy the ministry’s time this fall.
Neither bill touched on several large issues addressed by the panel in its final report – including a call to raise the threshold at which hobby farmers can qualify for massive breaks on their property tax. Calls for the threshold to be raised have come from the City of Abbotsford, the BC Chamber of Commerce, a 2016 Metro Vancouver report, as well as a previous 2009 review conducted for the government itself.
The ministry hasn’t yet fully considered each of the new report’s recommendations, Popham said. At the same time, she said the province wouldn’t be requiring the ALC to endorse all local government bylaws affecting protected farmland.
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The interim report made clear that many important issues had yet to be reviewed.
“This report should not be considered a complete list of recommendations put forward by the Committee, especially given the Committee has not yet had the opportunity to review the Agricultural Land Reserve Use, Subdivision and Procedure Regulation,” the panel wrote.
That interim report added that public feedback would be key in formulating the final report.
“The Committee is intending to provide recommendations to the Minister that will further ensure the revitalization of both the ALR and of the ALC, and that will assist the Province in developing an ‘agriculture-first’ mind-set throughout B.C. Many of these matters are regulatory in nature; some are policy oriented; and some involve new programs that will ensure the long term viability of the ALR.”
The final report also says action on the committees new recommendations are needed in order to solidify any gains already made.
“The Committee’s final recommendations build on interim recommendations for legislative change with key regulatory and operational action to make these shifts ‘stick’ and to advance an agriculture first agenda for the ALR. This is the necessary theme of revitalization. Government must make hard legal, administrative and program choices to secure a viable land base with appropriate governance to adequately support farmers and ranchers.”
Popham said the report would be referred to as she further pursued a goal of “revitalizing” the ALR.
“This report is really part of my toolbox that I will be using,” she said.
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