BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Letnick needs to act

Norm Letnick may be new as B.C.’s agriculture minister, but he may want to select his words a little more carefully.

Norm Letnick may be new as B.C.’s agriculture minister, but he may want to select his words a little more carefully.

Last week, the Kelowna-Lake Country MLA issued an op-ed piece to mark B.C. Farmers Appreciation Week.

“I would like to recognize the importance that farmers have to B.C.’s economy and to the health of everyone who lives here,” he wrote.

“Farmers are the heart of B.C. food  production, and nine out of 10 farms are family owned and operated. Almost 50  per cent of the food consumed in B.C. is produced right here in the province.”

Letnick’s comments come at the same time that North Okanagan farmers continue to struggle with provincial meat processing regulations.

“We have farm families leaving the Okanagan and looking for work elsewhere,” said Rick Fairbairn, a rancher and Regional District of North Okanagan director for rural Lumby.

It’s believed the number of local meat producers has gone from 1,200 to 300 since the rules came into place in 2007.

Unable to slaughter and sell directly from the farm, many farmers are unwilling to send their meat off to a large processor. Not only is there a cost involved, but there is no control over processing (is it a specific farmer’s meat that is coming back?). There is also limited capacity at processing facilities.

Demands for the province to issue class D and E licenses for on-farm slaughter have been consistently rebuked.

“Local farmers need action,” said Patrick Nicol, RDNO chairperson, in July.

“They can’t turn down licences over and over. They (farmers) are hurting.”

The regional district has lobbied Victoria consistently for changes, including meeting with Health Minister Michael de Jong in mid-July.

“I think he finally gets it and he will huddle with his colleagues and try and find a solution,” said Fairbairn at the time.

Things were looking good until Premier Christy Clark shuffled the cabinet chairs and bounced de Jong into finance. Now responsible for health is Margaret MacDiarmid, who previously went head-to-head with teachers as B.C.’s education minister.

“It’s frustrating after all of the effort rallying ministers on various initiatives we’ve been working on,” said Fairbairn when asked about the new cabinet.

Scheduled meetings with ministers at the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities convention were even thrown into flux.

“It’s frustrating at this late hour to be realigning ourselves with ministers,” said Fairbairn.

If there is one positive, according to Fairbairn, it’s the fact that Letnick is just a short trip down Highway 97.

“It will be a lot easier to deal with the Ministry of Agriculture,” said Fairbairn.

“The Ministry of Health is too complicated and he (Letnick) is supportive.”

Given that Letnick publicly declared his support for farmers and the agricultural sector last week, let’s hope he is more proactive than his predecessors.

And his first step should be to visit the North Okanagan and hear directly from local politicians as well as the farmers who have been impacted by his government’s policies.