MLA COLUMN: Consultations now open on the future of the ALR

I get a lot of questions as your MLA and some of the most challenging have been on the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). In recent weeks we have received a high volume of letters to our office about two ALR issues: the Creating Homefulness Society on Woodwynn Farm, and a proposed cannabis production facility at Stanhope Farm.

These are two very different projects but they highlight some of the difficulty our community faces in how the ALR is understood and managed in our region and province.

The ALR is a provincial zone governed by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC); “an independent administrative tribunal dedicated to preserving agricultural land and encouraging farming in British Columbia.”

From the letters and meetings I have had, it is clear that people in Saanich North and the Islands place a high value on increasing local food security. People want their local and provincial governments to protect and enhance our ability to grow food here, and for good reason. Over the last few generations we have become increasingly reliant on food products from far away. The range of concerns on this reality cover economic, social, environmental and health aspects. In addition, Vancouver Islanders are particularly vulnerable by the real possibility of a natural disaster interrupting our food supply.

The ALR, for the most part, protects agricultural land and through the definition of “agricultural land” it also protects land for “food production.” However, there are a number of ancillary and non-farm uses allowed on ALR land that have little to do with food security.

Farming is not an easy business, costs are increasing on the land and in the industry. It is important not to underestimate the effort and love the farming community puts into their craft. Food security cannot be achieved on the back of hobbyists or part-time farmers.

The ALR and the ALC are currently under review by our government. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham has appointed a nine-member panel who have lived and worked in all aspects of the industry. They have prepared a discussion paper and there is an online consultation survey open till the end of April. They want to hear from the public on a wide range of issues such as the role of food security in the ALC’s mandate, the controversial exclusions we have seen at the airport, failed applications such as Woodwynn, and the emergence of a new industry like cannabis production, which the federal government will legalize in July.

I encourage you to participate in the consultation. Once the panel’s work is complete they will make recommendations to Minister Popham and we will be debating the issues in the legislature this fall or next spring. To participate, please visit www.engage.gov.bc.ca/agriculturallandreserve.

Please feel free to get in touch with me or my staff by dropping into our office in Sidney or by emailing me at adam.olsen.mla@leg.bc.ca. You can also see what your MLA has been doing and see our upcoming community events by visiting my website at www.adamolsen.ca. This Spring I’ll be focusing on the challenges of transportation in Saanich North and the Islands. Our next community dialogue on this topic is on March 24. I hope to see you there!

Adam Olsen is the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Saanich North and the Islands.

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