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Consultation reduces harm to ALR
Good work, Norm Letnick! After Bill 24, the ALR bill, was passed this spring, he began broad consultation to update the ALR Regulation, which fleshes out the Agricultural Land Commission Act.
Letnick is our agriculture minister, and his process has been fair, thorough and productive.
Of course many thousands of farmers, ranchers and food eaters had wanted public input months ago. That began when they grasped the ALR bill’s essence and heard how mines minister “Kootenay Bill” Bennett had come up with it: mostly he’d chatted with buddies about his dream of overcoming the ALR.
Bennett had also found an ally in Pat Pimm, the agriculture minister when the bill was introduced. Earlier, Pimm had intervened in decisions of the Agricultural Land Commission. That lapse had prompted ALC chair Richard Bullock to explain that the ALC is a tribunal—like a court in its independence from elected officials.
The powers behind the ALR bill ignored the waves of calls to consult or kill it, but citizens kept trying, as the photos show. Rancher John Zehnder, with puppy Bob, helped take #Farmers4ALR beyond the Twitterverse. In response to Bennett’s gaffe about local food (“Where I live, you’d have to eat hay”), Kootenay farmers Erin Harris and Oliver Egan brought him a gift of healthy local food and knowledge.
When Letnick replaced the ailing Pimm as minister in April, he took first steps to consult. Although Bennett still guarded the bill, Letnick managed to improve it a bit. He’s now freer in follow-up steps.
A quick review here: First, Bill 24 was called “the bill to kill the ALR” because it reduced the protection of farmland in nine-tenths of the Agricultural Land Reserve. That issue is only slightly within the scope of Letnick’s current process.
Second, Bill 24 shrank the independence of the ALC and the role of the ALC chair. Since Letnick’s approach respects the commission and its chair, it reduces the harm.
Third, Bill 24 listed reams of bureaucratic busywork that would thwart Bullock’s strategic vision to streamline the ALC in accord with the auditor general’s 2010 ALC review. So far, the commission remains free to succeed.
To be involved at this stage, google “July 2014 Land Commission consultation” without quotes. As you read the consultation paper, notice the well-chosen kinds of stakeholders for the roles in the systematic process.
By way of a link under “Public Input,” do the survey, which is open till August 22 at noon. The clear questions start with ones about farm use.
Unfortunately, respondents don’t have to state their name or email. Factors like that can make the results less reliable.
A recent Pimm email (Aug. 7) to a Bennett buddy brings out a related factor. Pimm seeks “at least 300–500 submissions that support our position,” which he shows in a survey response to imitate. Such tactics are legit but can distort the results.
With added vigilance, the consultation can further reduce the harm from Bill 24. Meanwhile, it’s great that ALR advocates like John Zehnder, Erin Harris and Oliver Egan and many thousands more are being heeded.
Jim Wright is president of the Garden City Conservation Society. He blogs at GardenCityLands.wordpress.com.