Recent changes to rules governing farm residences in the Agricultural Land Reserve meet the criteria for a “systemic investigation,” says the office of the BC Ombudsperson.
This what the office has told Meghan McPherson, who owns a hobby farm in the Comox Valley.
McPherson reported on her discussion with the office during a meeting District A Farmers Institutes organized at Rusted Rake Farm in Nanoose Bay on June 17.
She’d taken her concerns with the farmhouse limits the province imposed in February to the office, which handles complaints about unfair administrative decisions or actions. It has jurisdiction over concerns related to government ministries, Crown corporations and similar organizations.
The limits were enabled through Bill 52, which the province passed last fall. It entrenched provincial guidelines regarding farmhouse size in law, and banned the construction of additional residences.
Residences under “substantial construction” by November 5, 2019 would be exempt from the rules, but the regulations governing the exemptions were implemented on February 22 without warning, meaning many owners didn’t have all the approvals needed to begin construction. This created confusion for municipalities and owners, and left many – including McPherson – in the lurch.
McPherson launched a Facebook group, “Changes to Bill 52,” which collected stories from affected families around the province. The widespread effect of the new regulations and the fact they were implemented with little notice, creating widespread hardship led the ombudsperson’s office to say the concerns met the criteria for a systemic investigation.
To trigger the investigation, those impacted by the change must first write their MLAs. Then, if there is no resolution, they need to request that their MLA request a systemic investigation with the office of the ombudsperson. The office will then investigate.
McPherson is proceeding with a complaint, and hopes others will do likewise.
McPherson’s experience resonated with the more than 50 farmers and landowners who attended the June 17 meeting.
“The actions of the government have far-reaching effects,” says Janet Thony, president of the District A Farmers’ Institutes, which represents Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Gulf Islands farmers institutes. “It no longer allows for farming families to live together on the same piece of land, and there are a whole bunch of impacts that come out of that.”
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