Nicholas Simons, MLA
Nicholas Simons, MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, and NDP Agricultural critic.
The NDP Agriculture Critic is calling on Minister Pat Pimm to open the consultation process on the core review of the Agricultural Land Commission.
Nicholas Simons says the work on the ALC review is being done behind closed doors, and the public at large has been left out.
“The protection of agricultural land is something that concerns everyone in this province, whether they are aware of it or not,” Simons says. “It’s not just an industry decision, it’s a public policy decision that will affect every man, woman and child in BC.
“I don’t think they are being transparent; I think they are being secretive, and even cagey about it.”
The ALC review has been dogged by controversy since secret cabinet documents were leaked to the Globe and Mail late last year.
Those documents showed Pimm was proposing radical changes to the ALC and the Agricultural Land Reserve. That included a proposal to “Develop the necessary policy, regulatory and legislative amendments to:
- Modernize ALC decision-making to reflect government priorities
- Create two ALR areas with different rules
- Change the ALC's legislative mandate, in one or both ALR areas
- Remove some decisions from the ALC
- Community growth applications decided by local governments
- Modernize ALC operations by moving the ALC into the Ministry"
While Pimm moved quickly to reassure the industry of his commitment to a strong Land Commission, many industry groups angrily pointed out they had not been consulted on any of the proposals.
“We’ve been cut out of that review,” said BC Agriculture Council president Rhonda Driediger in December. “We are going to keep pressuring the government to be open and transparent, because we want to be involved before decisions are made, not afterward when it is just a sell job.”
But Pimm denies there was any intent to keep industry leaders out of the consultation process.
“Regarding consultation, the ministry takes great pride in its relationship with industry and anticipates opportunities for input as the process moves forward,” Pimm said.
MLA Bill Bennett was given the task of running the core review, and soon after invited the leaders of agriculture associations to the table. Many, like BC Fruit Growers’ Association Jeet Dukhia, said they are satisfied with their inclusion in the consultation process.
But both Dukhia and Driediger pointed out they had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to be included in the consultation group.
That rang alarm bells for Simons.
“Yes, it’s good they are including the leaders of these associations, but why only them?” Simons says. “This will affect every farmer in the province, it will affect every person in the province. Why can’t the public at large have a say. Why can’t we know what is being discussed.”
Simons says the BC Liberals did a good job of public consultation when Parliamentary Secretary John Yap was given the task of reviewing BC’s liquor laws. In that case there was not only widespread public consultation, but Yap actually published his ideas for change on a publicly accessible blog, and invited comments. There were more than 76,000 visits to the site, 4,364 public comments, and 65 public stakeholder meetings.
Simons says Pimm should do the same thing for the core review of the ALC, and also reconstitute the Select Standing Committee on Agriculture.
“This is how input is invited, and people are not kept out of the process,” he says. “Believe it or not, there is a select standing committee on the books for agriculture, but it has never sat since I’ve been elected!”