The B.C. Liberals plan to fight recent policy changes to the Agricultural Land Commission they see as harmful to farmers and ranchers.
Official Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson was at an agricultural town hall in Knutsford this week with local MLAs Todd Stone and Peter Milobar to hear concerns of rural residents while denouncing the proposed Bill 15 and recently passed Bill 52.
“What we have to do on your behalf is bring that Interior voice to the legislature,” Wilkinson told about 45 residents who gathered at Grandview Acres on Tuesday.
Under the proposed bill, individual property owners will no longer be able to apply for exclusions or petition on their own behalf to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve for development.
The proposed amendment stipulates that applications for exclusions can only be submitted to the ALC by local governments, First Nations governments or the province. Bill 15 also re-organizes the ALC governance by amalgamating what are currently six regional panels into one land commission.
Wilkinson described the restriction as offensive to the concept of property ownership.
“It really goes to the core of the issue of what does it mean to own land when you can’t even initiate an application to change its use,” he said.
Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar said people should at least have the right to apply on their own behalf.
“You should have the right as a landowner to advocate for your own use of your own property that’s going to fit for what you and your family want to do to try to build that succession planning,” Milobar said.
Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham has said Bill 15 is designed to enhance protection of farmland and encourage farming and ranching in B.C.
Stone, the Kamloops-South Thompson MLA, said the policies, while well-intentioned, are making people’s lives harder.
“All of you who work the land — ranching, farming — you’re under siege,” Stone told the crowd.
He said the regional panels in place under the previous B.C. Liberal government weren’t perfect, but noted they were designed to have “local people making local decisions.”
Regulations that were put in place to directly address the construction of mega-mansions and commercial development in the ALR came into effect on Feb. 22 in the form of Bill 52, limiting the size of homes to 5,400 square feet and restoring a single zone in the land reserve.
Milobar said the Liberals would prefer looking at ways to restrict where on a property a landowner can build as opposed to simply restricting the size of a home altogether.
Rules to address mega-mansions in larger communities like Richmond don’t make sense for areas like Spences Bridge, Wilkinson said, arguing government should enact change that address the variety of circumstances around the province.
A few people in the crowd raised questions and concerns over the bills, with a third-generation rancher mentioning he believes his property will be lost in the years to come after being unable to subdivide his land as part of his retirement plan.
Other concerns brought up included the City of Kamloops’ plans to truck biosolids to Turtle Valley, near Chase, the impact of re-introducing right-to-roam legislation on ranchland and the need for stronger trespassing laws in B.C.
Wilkinson said the B.C. Liberals oppose right-to-roam law and conceded trespassing laws could use more teeth, while Stone committed to meeting with residents concerned about biosolids.
Forum hosts Ada and Rick Mogge of Grandview Acres, told KTW they felt the meeting went well and were happy the MLAs reached out to the agricultural community.
— with files from the Vancouver Sun