Pat Pimm got exactly the kind of headlines a new cabinet minister doesn't want, when his proposal to reform the Agricultural Land Commission was leaked to the media.
There were enough controversial proposals within that document to set the farming world on fire; from giving a bigger role to the Oil and Gas Commission, to giving more power to local governments on land use decisions.
But the real issue here is not about the proposal itself, but that the process could get that far without extensive public process. The document seemed to reflect more on Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm's personal peeves, than it did with any comprehensive analysis of the changes farmers really want and need.
This contrasts radically with the approach taken by the Liberal government on liquor law reform. In that case, Parliamentary Secretary John Yap was tagged to organize a province-wide review process that took in opinions from virtually every interested party, including the beer, wine and spirits industry. The result was change that truly reflects the needs of the industry and the BC economy, while still providing for public safety and public order.
This is how open government is supposed to work. Including industry and the public may cost more in the short term, but it results in better decision-making, and usually will save much more money in the long-term.
Consider the billion-dollar debacle that ensued when BC adopted the HST, without first consulting the public.
In December Pimm was being deluged by complaints from groups like the BC Agriculture Council about his failure to work with the industry, and the secretive way the review was being conducted.
Outspoken BCAC president Rhonda Driediger told Orchard and Vine at the time, "When the story about the leak broke, Minister Pimm called me and basically talked at me for 15 minutes, and that was it. That was the depth of our consultation. The funny thing is, we want the ALR reviewed; but we the farmers should be part of the process."
The good thing is Pat Pimm does appear to be a quick learner. He knows cutting out the industry reps will just gain him more bad headlines, so his caucus colleague Bill Bennett has been put in charge of the ALR core review, and in December the government invited leaders of the major agriculture associations to join a review committee.
The only catch; they had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and no one outside the committee will have any insight or input until the committee has finished its work. A tight lid has been sealed shut on the process, and if you're an ordinary farmer or member of the public, you'll have no idea what's happening with this critical process until that committee issues a report.
By contrast, Yap and the Solicitor General staged a process that was remarkably open and accountable. Public engagement meetings were held across the province. Businesses and associations were asked for their input, and better yet, Yap constantly published his ideas and opinions on a publicly accessible blog, which also allowed the public to submit their opinions. And because the public was both aware and consulted about proposed changes, when Premier Christy Clark announced those legislative changes last month, there was not even a ripple of protest.
This is how public consultation should be done, and it has resulted in some excellent changes being made to BC's liquor laws.
However, the review of the ALR and the Commission is actually more important than changes to our liquor laws. In this case, we are talking about the very future of farming and food security in British Columbia, about thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.
This review impacts all of us. Clearly, all of us should have a say, and a chance to examine the government's plan to overhaul the ALR before it happens, not after. Let's make this 'open process' truly open.