Changes to ALR a ‘slippery slope,’ says MLA

Conroy says changes to the B.C. Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) will result in the loss of much-needed farmland.

Changes to the B.C. Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) will result in the loss of much-needed farmland and will eventually do away with the 100 Mile Diet, according to Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy.

The NDP MLA is not keen on the Liberals’ announcement of dividing the land reserve into two zones, which could open up her riding’s farmland to development.

The change would see the land reserve divided into two Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) zones — opening up much of the Interior’s farmland to more development — under changes introduced by the provincial government last week.

Under the new system, Zone 1, which covers prime farmland in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, the Okanagan Valley and Vancouver Island, will see very few changes. While Zone 2, covering farmland in the North, the Kootenays and the rest of the Interior, will see farmland protection rules loosened to allow for more non-farming activities.

Conroy lives in Pass Creek, where she raises cattle on ALR land. She, along with the opposition caucus, doesn’t want this to pass and has an online petition that has gained much attention from like-minded folks.

“I think it’s the start of a slippery slope of taking out agricultural land from the reserve so that people can make money off of it,” she said from her office in Victoria. “The agricultural land reserve has been here since 1973 and the whole goal around it was to protect land permanently and we think that this is the start of removing it, to ensure that friends and insiders have the accessibility to a commission where they can say ‘I want to subdivide it.’”

This is not how the province has presented the news.

The changes, resulting from the government’s core review of the commission, will help farmers and farm families get ahead by recognizing regional differences, strengthening regional decision making and enhancing the ALC’s service to the public, it was noted in a news release from the Ministry of Agriculture.

The introduction of two ALC administered zones is designed to better recognize the province’s regional differences, it is also noted. In Zone 1, where land is in greater demand and there are development and population pressures, decisions will continue to be made on the basis of the original principle of preserving agricultural land.

But in Zone 2, where growing seasons are shorter and there are lower value crops, decisions will now, in addition to the original principle, include additional considerations to provide farmers more flexibility to support their farming operations.

But this is not how Conroy sees it.

“The concern is how much land do we remove?” she asked. “We all need to eat, we all need to grow food, and we need to have land to do this on and you think ‘My gosh what’s next?’

“What are we going to do if we start selling off our agricultural land and it becomes industrial land?”

The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary sent a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture asking to maintain the commission as a single province-wide zone and if there are any changes proposed to the commission or the ALR, that full consultation with local governments and stakeholders be undertaken, according to Mark Andison, RDKB general manager of operations.

The Agricultural Land Commission is an independent, administrative tribunal. The ALC makes land use decisions within the Agriculture Land Reserve.

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