‘Regulated into oblivion’: Farmers bring concerns about agriculture legislation to the legislature
On Monday morning, members of the Liberal caucus joined dozens of B.C. farmers who had come to the legislature to voice their concerns and frustrations about the NDP government’s approach to “revitalizing” the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) and Reserve (ALR).
Many held signs calling for the repeal of Bill 52, which passed in November 2018 took effect this spring.
Vancouver Island farmer Meghan McPherson said she was “blindsided” by the changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act and formed a Facebook group to voice her frustration. That group eventually led to yesterday’s protest.
“We’re standing together today for our rights and against the injustice of this legislation,” she said. “The uncertainty that it’s created simply isn’t fair. What is expected of us financially — to invest into our properties, to invest into agriculture — It is a lot. The government is asking a lot of us, they’re expecting a lot of us and they’re not providing us any security.”
McPherson and her fellow farmers expressed their frustration at the new rules, saying they placed impossible restrictions on residential building on ALR properties — including residences for family members who help out with farm operations. The changes put farm mortgages at risk and could make replacing damaged homes impossibly expensive, according to McPherson, because some secondary residences on farm properties are now considered “legally non-conforming.”
“Lenders consider ALR parcels high-risk to begin with, and now they’re filled with a bunch of structures that are not replaceable should something happen to them,” she said.
Rusted Rake owner Jodie Lucas recounted her experience of trying to meet requirements to operate a restaurant on her Nanoose Bay farm; Lucas and her husband went so far as to buy thousands of dollars of brewing equipment, as directed by the ALC, and plant two hectares of barley only to be told their application still did not meet the standard needed.
Liberal MLA Mike de Jong said the NDP government’s approach to farmers has been disrespectful.
“What form does that disrespect take? You’re going to hear stories today … about people and families who have been on the farm for generations who have the audacity to want their parents to live on the same farm as them. Can you imagine such a thing?” De Jong asked the crowd, who jeered the suggestion.
“The government comes along and says to the owners of this property, you are going to have to ask us what you can build, you are going to have to ask us where you can build it,” he continued. “And if you don’t like the answer, don’t bother asking us or making an application because we say you’re not a person anymore.”
During debate on another bill that has caused consternation in some parts of B.C.’s farming community, de Jong compared Bill 15, Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act’s redefinition of “person” to exclude farmers to the Persons Case.
Liberal Agriculture critic Ian Paton said together, Bills 15 and 52 strip farmers of their property rights.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said the government has tried to strike a balance between preserving agricultural land and avoiding placing needless restrictions on farmers.
“We probably could have communicated better,” she admitted when asked about farmers claiming they were not consulted before the changes became law.
She also accused the Liberals of spreading “misinformation” about the effects of the legislative changes and said ministry staff have had to spend time “mythbusting” during its ongoing consultations on the ALR — the ministry’s second attempt to get farmers onside with its revitalization efforts.
According to the agriculture ministry, farmers are allowed additional residences on ALR properties but must apply to the ALC to do so.
During question period, Popham said the majority of applications that have come before the ALC since the new requirements came into effect have been approved.
Residential buildings that pre-date the recent amendments “can continue to be used in exactly the same way,” per the ministry. As for rebuilding, the ministry said it is not aware of any banks denying mortgages due to the new rules and that it will “support farmers” facing challenges on that front.
“We have extended the offer to connect with lending institutions that have concerns about issuing mortgages or loans to homes in the ALR due to the fire-rebuild policy,” the ministry said in a statement to BC Today.