Kootenay East MLA responds to ALR Bill 15

East Kootenay MLA Tom Shypitka responds to the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act.

Kootenay East Constituents,

I am responding to Agriculture Minister Lana Popham’s explanation, from her base in Victoria, as to why the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act 2019 (Bill 15) is so good for us here in the Kootenays.

It’s probably important to explain to the NDP that we have a very different geography, soil type and growing season than the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island.

The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), created by the NDP in the early 1970’s, was done hastily in our region. Lines were drawn at the foot of the Rocky and the Purcell Mountains and everything inside those lines was put into the ALR. The idea was to protect land that was good for agriculture – something we all agree on.

Much of the land inside the ALR boundaries is not fit for agriculture here in the Kootenays. Ranchers and rural home owners have had to apply to the regional Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to use land that is very often not suitable for agriculture. The BC Liberals made improvements in their last term of government, but those improvements were just tossed aside by the NDP.

The previous government created local panels to make decisions. The NDP fired those local volunteers, reduced local input and relegated decision-making to Burnaby, a far cry from my constituency.

Previously, a land owner could apply for “non-farm” use on their land, or for a subdivision or an exclusion from the ALR. The process wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t easy, but at least there was a process for residents to apply.

If Bill 15 is passed, land owners inside the ALR no longer have the right to apply for changes to their land. The changes in Bill 15 redefine the term “person,” making local governments, First Nations or the Province the only ones allowed to apply for changes in the ALR. Farmers, and land owners, no longer have the right to advocate for themselves or their land. So much for the NDP being the party of the people. An attack on the basic rights of land ownership is something I would expect in communist Russia, not British Columbia.

The fact of the matter is that much of the land inside the ALR in the Kootenays is rocky, has thin and poor quality soil and virtually non-existent water for irrigation. For that type of land, given our short growing season, a land owner ought to be able to apply to use the land in a way that will help their family and sustain the agriculture that can grow on it. The NDP have removed the right to even apply.

Let’s be clear. We all want food security for the Province and we all want to protect our agriculture and the productive land that sustains it. However I am not talking about mega-mansions in Surrey. I am talking about sustainable farms in places like Wycliffe, Newgate, and Grasmere. There is a major difference with our agricultural land here and this NDP government needs to recognize this.

The notion that “one size fits all” across our province underlines exactly how out of touch this NDP government is, and this infringement on personal land rights also begs the question, what will the NDP come for next?

-Tom Shypitka, MLA for Kootenay East