On April 28, the British Columbia NDP called on Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett to tell her constituents where she stands on Agriculture Land Commission (ALC) changes tabled in Bill 24.
NDP agriculture critic Nicholas Simons noted Barnett is a member of the Environment and Land Use Committee.
“Donna Barnett needs to answer to her constituents, many of whom strongly support the protection of farmland, whether or not she stands with British Columbian farmers, or if she sides with B.C. Liberal MLA [and Energy & Mines Minister] Bill Bennett who wants to destroy the Agricultural Land Reserve [ALR].”
Despite a recent announcement by new Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick that he intends to take a step back and consult with British Columbians on Bill 24, Simons said Bennett has stated emphatically the bill is going to pass this session.
Simons added Bennett, through his additional role as the Minister for Core Review, has been instrumental in “trying to break apart” the ALR.
“The ALR plays an integral role in protecting B.C.’s farmland, yet minister Bennett is hell-bent on destroying it and allowing it to be managed through political decisions. This simply can’t be allowed to happen and Donna Barnett needs to start explaining exactly where she stands.”
However, Barnett said she has been open and public about her position supporting changes to the ALC.
“This is something that we have asked for and people have been looking for in this area for years.”
She provided a past example of a ranching couple who applied to subdivide their land within the ALR, where they lived, but wanted to build a new house and sell their existing home.
“They have a 300-400 acre ranch, but their house happens to be on the other side of the road on 10 acres. So, they would like to take that 10 acres off and sell it, and build a new house over where their barn is, where their cattle are – and with any extra money they got, they would enhance their farm. They were rejected.”
These are the types of issues that “need to be fixed,” Barnett explained.
The local MLA said if agriculture operations across the province are to succeed in the long term – especially in the new Zone 2 in the Cariboo – ranching families need the ability to subdivide parcels for their offspring to stay at the home ranch after they grow up, not leave for greener pastures.
“If a young person wants to stay on the farm and get a mortgage on their house, they have to have title to the land.”
Barnett added Bill 24 includes protections of fertile lands and ensures the ALC will continue to operate independently. The proposed changes also provide a better chance for farmers and ranchers to succeed by allowing for value-added and home-based businesses, she notes.
Barnett said the proposed new regional review panels offer an opportunity to include people who understand local agriculture land, as well as involving local governments earlier in the decision-making process.