A leaked proposal by the provincial government to dismantle the Agricultural Land Commission could open up a significant amount of protected farmland for economic development with potential impacts in the Comox Valley.
Confidential government documents obtained by the Globe and Mail Thursday, show B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm is seeking to ask cabinet to modernize the ALC to ensure government’s priorities for economic development are reflected in ALC decisions.
The proposal seeks to create two Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) areas with different regulations, change the ALC’s legislative mandate along with have community growth applications decided by local government.
“It is extremely worrisome for local farmers,” said local agrologist Arzeena Hamir who owns Amara Farm in Courtenay.
“In the Comox Valley, coal exploration is at arm’s length with local farming. It can have a significant impact on the water quality … it puts the quality of farmland in the Comox Valley at a huge risk.”
The ALC, which was established in 1973, is responsible for preserving and protecting the province’s farmland. It conducts land use planning in partnership with local communities, evaluates applications for the use of land in the ALR, and encourages farming as a basis for a sustainable economy and a secure source of food.
The ALR comprises five per cent of B.C’s land mass, or 4.7 million hectares.
If the proposed changes are approved, it could see the ALC staff move into the Ministry of Agriculture.
The ALC is an independent Crown agency, but the move could end its autonomy from government.
In a second document, one change could lead to two classes of ALR — a status quo Okanagan and Fraser Valley-Vancouver Island and Interior, and a Kootenays and north of the Okanagan class, where rules will be “anything goes.”
The document also suggests making oil and gas decisions the priority land use decision and the Oil and Gas Commission the primary authority.
“It’s a short-sighted way of planning for our future,” added Hamir. “Municipalities are in the business of development and the benefits of agriculture aren’t often realized.”
Gerry McClintock of McClintock’s Farm and president of the Comox Valley Farmers’ Institute noted agriculture changes continuously, and what land might be uneconomic now, may be economic in the future.
“The Institute supports the ALC and where it stands today and the idea of preserving farm land for future use,” he explained. “Once land is developed, there is no way to reverse it; nobody will be tearing down established housing to go back to farming.”
Hamir acknowledged while the proposal is “not a done deal,” she encourages the community to contact local MLA Don McRae to express their concerns.
“It leaves Comox Valley farmers extremely vulnerable; it will only happen if we don’t say anything.”