Close to 200 farmers and landowners from across the Lower Mainland gathered in Surrey on March 24 to discuss concerns regarding Bill 15, which is set for second reading this week.
The bill proposes five key changes to the Agricultural Land Commission, but the most contentious is one that strips landowners of the right to represent themselves to the ALC when it comes to exclusions – and, according to opposition MLAs who attended the meeting, all other applications. The bill defines a “person” as “the Province, a First Nation government or a local government, or a prescribed public body.”
“Through the course of history, the worst forms of discrimination have occurred this way,” Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong said, calling the bill “the most insidious piece of legislation” he’s ever seen.
The bill follows legislation last fall that addressed activities within the Agricultural Land Reserve, including residential construction. While limits on house sizes weren’t supposed to take effect until November 5, regulations restricting them came into force February 22. The surprise move is now fueling opposition to the next round of changes.
Concerns were also voiced at the up-classing of soils in the Kamloops area, on the grounds that previous land commissioners made mistakes.
“This is chaos, ladies and gentlemen, chaos!” said Richmond-Queensborough MLA Jas Johal. “Under this government what we’re seeing is a full-on war on farmers.”
Speakers laid the blame squarely at the feet of Premier John Horgan and his chief of staff, Geoff Meggs.
The name of agriculture minister Lana Popham wasn’t once mentioned, but she faced fierce attacks the following day in the legislature from de Jong and others who charged her with disrespect for farmers.
“I can see that the member is very passionate about his misinterpretation of this proposed legislation,” she replied. “But our government is actually passionate about farmers and farming.”
De Jong also singled out the BC Agriculture Council for criticism regarding its support of the new bill.
“To ensure farmland is protected for current and future food security, while protecting the rights of farmers and ranchers, the ALC’s governance structure must have a decision-making process that is flexible, adaptive and efficient. Overall, the update is a positive step forward,” stated BCAC president Stan Vander Waal in a government press release announcing the legislation.
De Jong was not impressed.
“That is the single most unforgivable abdication of responsibility I have ever witnessed,” he told Country Life in BC.
Opposition MLAs admit, however, that they can’t stop the legislation because they don’t have enough votes. However, they hope to challenge and delay the bill at every step of the political process.