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Bill opens up 'major development' in ALR

Richmond council is calling on the provincial government to cool its heels before moving ahead with major changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve.

On Monday civic politicians backed a motion asking the province to consult with the public and local governments before Bill 24 becomes law.

Coun. Harold Steves brought the motion forward from the City of Nelson, which is seeking support from Metro Vancouver cities in its opposition to the bill.

The province wants to divide the ALR into two zones, "thereby discriminating between regions and potentially constraining their ability to achieve and sustain agricultural self-sufficiency and economic development," reads the resolution.

"It's opening up…major development in every community in Zone 2, which is outside the Lower Mainland," said Steves, adding that since farmers and municipal governments are speaking out against the bill, it's not clear who the province consulted.

At Monday's council meeting Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt stressed the importance of maintaining the integrity of the ALR.

"You can't just keep on taking land out, you can't keep making it easier and easier…" she said. "All it comes down to is everyone wants the same piece of land, and that land needs to be able to feed people, so we need to do everything we can to preserve it."

The bill, which would set new rules for protected farmland in the B.C. Interior, has been met with opposition from farmers. The B.C. Agriculture Council has called for changes to the legislation, which the government announced March 27.

"It is the position of the B.C. Agriculture Council that as currently written, Bill 24 threatens the sustainability of agriculture in B.C.," said Stan Vander Waal, chair of the council, in a statement last week.

The changes were spearheaded by Energy Minister Bill Bennett as part of the government's "core review" of operations. They would allow consideration of more non-farm uses outside the Island, South Coast and Okanagan regions where most of B.C.'s farm income is generated.

Bill 24 also formalizes the cabinet appointment process for the six regional panels of the Agricultural Land Commission, which oversees the ALR, so two or three local farmers make the front-line decisions on applications for permitted uses such as a secondary residence.

NDP agriculture critic Nicholas Simons has protested the legislation since it was revealed.

"The decision to protect land suitable for agriculture 40 years ago was for the benefit of future generations," Simons said. "Having two zones and the 'regional panels' make decisions about agricultural land is too political."

—with files from Tom Fletcher

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