MLA has concerns with ALR changes

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald is in strong opposition of the changes made by the Liberal government.

As was printed in last week’s issue, the Agricultural Land Reserve will be divided into two zones, with regulations that will allow the development of non-farm home-based businesses. The changes will affect three of the six regional panels of the Agricultural Land Commission, including the Interior, Kootenay and North regions.

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald is in strong opposition of the changes made by the Liberal government and called it a “disregard for food security”.

Decisions will now be made by cabinet-appointed commissioners and can be appealed to the regional chairs, who will act as an executive.

“The local boards will be able to decide whether there should be exclusions from the ALR and that will be based upon not only whether it is good agricultural land but on other issues that are pretty broad and not completely clear,” Macdonald said.

Prior to these changes, there was a way to apply for ALR exclusions, although Macdonald admits it was a lengthy and difficult process. Still, Macdonald sees a fundamental problem with the new changes.

“What this Bill sets up is a situation where you have politicians assigning a local board, and that board gets to make the decisions on exclusions from the ALR that are worth huge amounts of money,” Macdonald said.

Bill Bennett, East Kootenay MLA and the Liberal cabinet minister in charge of the government’s core review of programs cited an example from his constituency as a good reason for the changes. Under the old legislation, a Kootenay resident was denied permission to build a second home on an unproductive part of the property in order to allow the next generation to take over the business.

Rhonda Dridiger, chair of the B.C. Agricultural Council, and Faye Street, general manager of Kootenay Livestock Association, have come out in support of the changes, with both stating that the ALC is old and needed to be updated in order to make farming easier on a day to day basis and as a way to encourage young farmers to enter the industry.

Macdonald has been hearing plenty from his constituents in Invermere in regards to this issue, and has been hearing about it from Goldenites as well, specifically about issues of food security.

“I do understand that there will be people in Golden that will welcome this simply because they have land and the economics of making a living farming (are difficult) and this is an opportunity to make some money,” he said. “Even if one wanted to do that, you’d want to set up a fair system and I think it is predictable that this will be a system that is open to a tremendous amount of abuse.”