In my last two MLA reports, I have discussed the problems with Bill 24, amendments to the Agriculture Act, which will fundamentally change the way decisions are made concerning the development of agricultural land. With the passing of Bill 24, we will essentially remove any independent oversight of the way these decisions are made. Instead, every withdrawal from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) will be decided upon based on political criteria by politicians. There is nothing defensible about that.
Rather than putting in a place a framework for dismantling the ALR in a way that serves only the best interest of politicians, we need to be having a much larger discussion about a progressive food policy for the entire province. Figuring out a way to feed ourselves sustainably has to be at the top of our agenda.
British Columbia is well-positioned to be a leader in local food production and food security. Even in the Kootenays, where Bill Bennett says we only grow hay, there is a blossoming local food culture. Small businesses are being started all over this region as we take advantage of the agricultural opportunities we have here. But access to land is very often a struggle, and if Bill Bennett gets his way, there will be even less agricultural land in the Kootenays.
This is why we are proposing a different solution. We have put forward the BC Local Food Act, which will actually increase food security, improve health outcomes and fuel local economic activity.
The BC Local Food Act would require government purchasing of locally grown food, would reintroduce the very successful Buy BC program, and would mandate a legislative committee on food and agriculture. This committee would establish a plan to increase local food production, marketing and processing.
It would set specific, measurable targets for progress, and it would develop the policies that would need to be adopted by government to ensure success. We need to focus on making it possible for people to farm successfully. We need to build capacity for food processing and storage, and protect the valuable public asset that is the Agricultural Land Reserve. The BC Local Food Act is an example of agriculture policy that actually makes life better for British Columbians; a stark contrast to the BC Liberals and Bill 24.
Norm Macdonald is the NDP MLA for Columbia River Revelstoke. He can be reached by phone at 1-866-870-4188 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.