Community Papers

The EATEN PATH – OPINION: ALR never had a chance with Premier's appointments

The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) never stood a chance when Premier Christy Clark appointed two long-term opponents of the provincial farming land bank to high-profile jobs.

The Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, known as Bill 24, divides the ALR into two zones, 90 per cent of which is now available for other uses—most importantly, natural gas development.

Former Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm’s buddy wanted a rodeo on his ranch. The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) said “no way,” so Peace River developer Terry McLeod built it anyway.

And cabinet minister Bill Bennett, like many BC Liberals, just hates the ALR and always has.

“We do not need people from outside our region telling us we should cease developing our tourism industry,” Bennett said in a 2012 email obtained by the Globe and Mail to ALC chair Richard Bullock about an RV park a constituent wanted to develop.

Pimm’s constituent, McLeod, ignored the ALC ruling knowing that the appointment of his MLA as ag minister meant he could do whatever he wanted.

But back in 2012, Pimm sent a reply-to-all on the Bennett email, one he’d probably like to take back now.

“Mr. Bullock seems to be able to tell a great story but to this point I have not seen any delivery. Here is an opportunity to actually muster up some support for our team but instead we will ignore it and go out and find some way to give the Indians more money which doesn’t get me one vote! I am very tired of this kind of nonsense.”

Not even one vote? Pimm doesn’t think a single First Nations person would vote for him? Or did he mean people from India?

Bennett said he forgot his friend Pimm said such things and he was “distressed” to see it resurface.

Pimm, who is on medical leave, apologized.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs didn’t accept, calling Pimm’s comments “reprehensible.”

But what of Bill 24 and its changes to the ALR for folks here in Chilliwack?

It may seem easy to mock the rigid ideological and selfish hatred of the ALR from folks in northern and interior communities while we sit down here in prime farmland, with soil productivity hard to match on the planet.

But don’t forget, the ALR is anathema to the vast majority of elected officials at every level of Chilliwack politics and has been since it was created.

Municipal politicians may not openly decry it as stifling to residential development, but they do quietly think asmuch. Provincial BC Liberals generally don’t like it on ideological grounds: the ALR amounts to government telling landowners what they can do with their land.

So what do farmers think of Bill 24 and the government invoking closure on the bill last week?

“The government’s decision to invoke closure on Bill 24 is a disappointment, but it’s not a surprise,” said Chilliwack’s Stan Vander Waal, chair of the B.C. Agricultural Council (BCAC). Vander Waal is on the Chilliwack Agricultural Commission and is owner of Rainbow Greenhouses, the largest local agricultural employer. “Ideally, the proposed legislation would have been withdrawn so proper consultation with B.C. farmers, ranchers and agriculture stakeholders could take place.”

Vander Waal is hopeful inasmuch as the new ag minister Norm Letnick made a few changes to Bill 24 to “reduce what BCAC originally deemed a threat to BC agriculture.”

As for comments from BC Liberal cabinet ministers to the chair of the ALC, Vander Waal said they “reflect a level of impatience and entitlement indicative of bullying.”

The NDP created a Kill Bill 24 campaign, which eventually failed, but was picked up by the Chefs’ Table Society of British Columbia, which created a bit of a social media storm that included selfies from farmers under the hashtag #chefs4ALR and #killbill24.

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