New hires at the Agricultural Land Commission are leading to stronger protections for farmland in BC.
The commission now employs seven compliance and enforcement staff, with the latest two being added this year. Staff are now stationed in regions across the province, a shift from three years ago when two staff based in Burnaby were charged with responding to complaints across the entire province.
Originally established in 2007, the compliance and enforcement team received a boost in the 2016 provincial budget that allowed three new hires, including a coordinator of operations. Additional funding last year allowed for the latest two hires. Staff are now stationed in Burnaby, Kamloops, Kelowna and Nanaimo.
The extra staff members are keeping busy thanks to a 25% increase in complaints this year to date.
According to the ALC’s latest annual report, last year saw 257 new complaints, a 33% increase from 193 complaints the previous year. While the number of closed files has risen steadily, the tally of active files as of March 31, 2019 increased 12% to 344.
The enforcement efforts also resulted in the commission levying its biggest fine ever for non-compliance, a penalty of $70,000 for the deposit of fill above and beyond what a 1997 application originally allowed. While the commission found that the current owner hadn’t intentionally fallen into non-compliance and ceased bringing in fill when requested, the addition of more than 1 million cubic metres beyond what was allowed justified the hefty fine.
A previous fine in 2017, the commission’s first, was for operating a non-farm business in the ALR. The amount was $7,500, and the commission ultimately had to petition BC Supreme Court to grant an order for payment.
Commercial activity in the ALR typically represents the single largest source of complaints to the ALC, at 42% last year. However, several landowners have demanded that a greater range of commercial activities be allowed within the ALR to support the viability of their farms.
A provincial consultation kicks off in Merville on September 19 regarding ways the province can support farmers while protecting the integrity of the ALR.