Editorial: Don’t sell the farm

The provincial government is cash-strapped. But rather than increasing taxation or finding new sources of revenue...

The provincial government is cash-strapped. But rather than increasing taxation or finding new sources of revenue, Premier Christy Clark is embarking on a core review seeking to save $100 million in government spending.

Charged with the task is our neighbouring MLA to the south, Bill Bennett, who’s is open to looking at all provinical government agencies, including the sacred cows that haven’t been subject to a government cutback in decades.

But the Agricultural Land Reserve is one pasture he should not be grazing for potential savings jackpots.

Established in 1973, the ALR covers 4.7 million acres in B.C. — about five per cent of the province. I say covers, not protects,

because the Agricutural Land Commission that oversees the ALR is a reasonable body that understands development can sometimes be the best use for agricultural land. In other cases, it’s a needed pressure-reducing valve that preserves farm land in the face of development boom times, which is something Columbia Valley residents are familiar with.

The east side of Lake Windermere once had five ranches, while Westside Road boasted eight ranching operations located along it. Clearly, agriculural land was and still can be relevant here.

A Globe and Mail news report earlier this month indicates that while Mr. Bennett is carrying out his review, Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm had written a memo to cabinet recommending changes to the ALC that would effectively gut the Commission.

This comes after the ALR has already been subject to delegation agreements that allow the Oil and Gas Commission to take on files for the ALC in northeastern B.C., which is sort of like having the fox guard the henhouse. As a reporter in Dawson Creek four years ago, I saw dozens of applications get the Commission’s rubber stamp to develop on farmland, despite the still untapped agricultural potential of the Peace River valley. (Mind you, the population pressures to develop up there are… minimal.)

Our valley is on the cusp of a great opportunity to produce and sell local agricultural products, and it’s likely thanks to the ALR that we have that potential today.