The need to make any changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve and how it is governed is questionable, says a local economist.
UBCO professor John Janmatt says the controversial Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act 2014, currently in the hands of Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick, stirs a litany of questions.
“How broken is the current system and does it really need to be changed?” he said.
“Are we suffering that much and, if there are these big glaring problems, lets see them rather than these simple little anecdotes of the odd person who doesn’t like it.”
Janmatt believes amendments to the act do not address the concerns outlined in the auditor general’s 2010 review of the ALC, which noted mapping of the reserve’s boundaries is weak and oversight of the “delegated authorities” needs strengthening.
Those delegated authorities include a couple of regional governments and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, which has been handling review of requests for boundary adjustments and removal of chunks of the ALR pertaining to the oil and gas industry since the mid-’90s.
The massive amount of legislative change in the province — the creation of the new Water Sustainability Act, the Parks Amendment Act, the Agricultural Land Commission amendments — is pegged by pundits as paving the way for oil and gas expansion, but Janmaat sees another culprit in the ALC amendments.
“Most of the applications come from municipalities and developers not from farmers,” he said.
“So it’s not really about benefiting farm families, but it’s about enabling landowners to either get their land directly out of the ALR or at least to subdivide it or start new activities so they can get new activities out of the land.”
Janmaat’s has mapped the lands removed and added to the ALR in this province, and the results clearly indicated land is being taken out in the Kootenays, along the border where wealthy Calgarians might want to shop for small estate lands, and in pricey coastal communities.
The amendments also place subdivision decisions in the hands of local panels, Janmaat noted, saying there is already research to show this approach has not worked well with the six regional panels created in 2002.
Drawing on a study done by Ryan Green, out of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria, he suggested local panels are far more susceptible to listening to the local advocates and approving subdivisions than a Agricultural Land Commission body.