Agriculture was vital to the early development of the Okanagan, but some politicians believe bureaucracy is placing the industry’s future at risk.
Lana Popham, the NDP’s agriculture critic, says farmers are struggling largely because Liberal government policies have made it difficult to operate.
“There are lots of promises of supporting agriculture but there was no mention of it in the throne speech or the jobs plan,” said the Saanich MLA during a stop in Vernon Wednesday.
“Agriculture has been cut as far as the ministry goes. We’re at a critical stage and it can’t be cut more.”
Popham says programs for farmers are not a case of taxpayers subsidizing private business and points out that farmers are tied to their property because of the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve.
“They don’t want handouts. They want policies that support the industry,” she said.
“We’re the least supportive of any province in Canada in terms of agriculture.”
The NDP is pushing for the government to reinstate the Buy B.C. program which urges the public to buy food items grown or processed in B.C.
“That was really helpful and people have been calling for it to come back since it was cut in 2001,” said Popham.
Popham also wants regulations that prevent farm-gate meat processing sales to be eased.
“There is less meat being produced because of Liberal policy,” she said.
The NDP also wants government agencies, such as school boards and health authorities, to buy B.C. food items and launch direct support programs for farmers.
“There are market opportunities and incredible land to cultivate,” said Adrian Dix, NDP leader.
Dix says the other issue the government must address is the high cost of land which prevents young people from entering the sector.
“We don’t want the ALR to be a museum,” he said.
“We want active farmers, young farmers. There’s a generational issue in farming.”
Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, insists the Liberal government considers agriculture important economically and socially.
“Last month, the rural members of the caucus met with the agriculture minister four or five times on issues. The tree fruit industry is a big issue,” he said.
Foster says it is time for the NDP to be constructive and reduce the rhetoric.
“It’s easy to be in opposition. What kind of agricultural plan have they come up with except to criticize?” he said.