VICTORIA—Growing criticism of the province’s efforts to tighten protection of the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve is prompting the province to backtrack on some of the new regulations.
A late-night bulletin the BC Ministry of Agriculture posted on June 18 indicates that rules governing second homes in the ALR would allow a grandfathering period.
“As the Province has continued to work on regulations to support Bill 52, the BC government has been listening to local governments and people living in the Agricultural Land Reserve,” the bulletin stated. “There will be more details to come in the next few weeks.”
The new rules stipulate that additional dwellings can only house workers, not immediate family members, drawing criticism from commercial and hobby farmers alike, as well as rural landowners caught unawares by the sudden change. The new rule took effect with implementation of the new Agricultural Land Use Regulation on February 22.
“In the old legislation it actually said that it didn’t need to just be for farm help, that it could be for immediate family,” explains Janet Thony, chair of District A Farmers Institute, an umbrella group representing farmers institutes on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and Sunshine Coast. “They’ve removed that and, to double-down on that, they’ve also decided that they get to adjudicate whether or not you’re enough of a farmer to require farm help. You don’t get to decide that, they do, the ALC [Agricultural Land Commission].”
The issue was the last straw for District A members, which watched cautiously as Bill 52 was passed last fall, eliminating two zones for the ALR as well as addressing fill and residential development. The raft of changes proposed in Bill 15 this spring came as a greater surprise, and complemented growing concern with the approach the province was taking.
Thony, as chair of Coombs Farmers Institute, a member of District A, wrote a letter to BC agriculture minister Lana Popham outlining six concerns with the legislation and requesting a meeting. (The legislation governing farmers institutes grants them direct access to the minister.) A meeting didn’t happen.
“There was a series of unfortunate responses from them that actually kept ramping up our concern and anger level,” she explains. “Because we were getting this extreme pushback, stonewalling and – really – misrepresentation, that’s when we went, ‘okay, where do we go from here?’”
The result was a public meeting in Nanoose Bay on June 17, and the following night, the ministry bulletin.
“I’m putting this out to clear the air and to make sure people know we are continuing to do the hard work necessary to help farmers farm and protect the ALR,” Popham posted to her Facebook account the next morning.
Country Life in BC requested an interview with the minister to discuss the changes, but was told she had nothing further to add to the pledge in the bulletin.
Thony wants to see the specifics.
“She keeps using the term ‘grandfathered,’ so the part we don’t like about that is, is she going to make some backroom deals with these immediately impacted people but still go ahead with the complete restriction on second dwellings? We don’t want anything to do with that,” she says.
The same regulation also changed the rules for cannabis.
An order in council last July allowed licensed producers to produce cannabis within the ALR under specific conditions: either in soil-based systems, or structures designated for crop production when government signed the order in council.
But the wording of the new regulation gave municipalities the power to regulate cannabis production, save the forms that were explicitly allowed by the order in council.
“There has been no change made to the Province’s cannabis policy since the original policy framework announced in July 2018,” agriculture ministry staff told Country Life in BC at the end of May.
But the new wording effectively backtracked on the order in council, allowing all forms of cannabis production within the ALR except where prohibited by local governments. This ran counter to initial recommendations of the advisory committee the agriculture minister appointed last year to guide the revitalization of the ALC and ALR.
Those recommendations included “an immediate moratorium on all non-soil bound cannabis production and facilities in the ALR pending provincial-level analysis of impacts” and giving the ALC authority “to establish rules/criteria for cannabis production throughout the ALR” and to “permit cannabis production in the ALR only through application to the ALC.”
Delta South MLA and BC Liberal agricultural critic Ian Paton, who lives in a second residence on his family’s farm and attended the District A meeting on June 17, said the new regulations created “a real mess” for farmers and property owners across the province that’s starting to be felt.
Paton says everyone from large agri-tourism operators such as wineries down to small-scale farmers and charitable ventures such as the Fraser Valley Gleaners have been caught in the province’s zealous protection of the ALR.
“It’s a mess, complete mess right now,” he says. “They’re taking so much heat, … they’re saying well, oops, give us [some] time where we’re going to work on coming up with an idea to allow for some grandfathering. Obviously, they’re backtracking. The heat is on.”