Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Agricultural Land Reserve under threat due to core review

“We’re going to look at some sacrosanct things, like certain agencies. We’re going to look at the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission,” Bill Bennett, minister responsible for the core review, said Wednesday.

That quote sent a shiver up my spine when I read it in a recent article in the Vancouver Sun.

The provincial government launched a review of the services government provides at the end of July. According to the provincial government, the review will:
-Ensure ministry programs and activities are focused on achieving government's vision of a strong economy and secure tomorrow.
-Confirm government's core responsibilities and eliminating programs that could provide better service at less cost through alternative service delivery models.
-Ensure public-sector management wage levels are appropriate.

Recommendation will be due in December 2014 and will be incorporated into the 2014-15 budget. What scares me is that it appears that some politicians in the provincial government have a basis against the preservation of farmland.

In 2010, the Auditor General found that the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) —which looks after the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)— was having a hard time meeting its goal of protecting farmland due, in part, to insufficient funding. A recent follow-up from the Auditor General in 2012 noted that the ALC, under direction of the Ministry of Agriculture, was working on finding new funding sources to help the ALC meet its goals. Some of the funding options examined were increased application fees, service fees, monitoring fees, and auditing fees. In the meantime, the provincial government provided $625,000 in temporary funding for fiscal year 2011/12, a further $975,000 in fiscal 2012/13, and another $931,000 in fiscal 2013/12 to help the ALC as it transition to a more self-supporting model allowing the agency to better meet its mandate of protecting farmland.

It is a bit mind-boggling that one part of the provincial government seems to be committed to strengthening the ALC while other parts (as Bill Bennett’s comment suggests) want to weaken the ALC and its ability to protect farmland. I’ve heard other local MLAs say that they have issues with the ALC and regional land-use planning in general.

Farmland is an important part of our local economy, protects floodplains, and keeps urban sprawl in check in Metro Vancouver. A temporary weakening of the ALR in the 1980s caused an explosion of golf course. The provincially mandated removal of land from the ALR in Delta is the reason why the Tsawwassen First National can now build one of the largest shopping malls in Canada. Also, the reason that Barnston Island is still rural is because the ALC preventing an industrial park from being built.

While a core review of government services is something that I can support, I get concerned when the person in charge of the review has a bone to pick with the ALC and the preservation of farmland in Metro Vancouver.

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