August 28, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Environmental Law Clinic (ELC) requested today that Premier Campbell and Cabinet appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate whether the recently restructured Agricultural Land Commission is adequately protecting British Columbia’s farm land. The request, made on behalf of the Agricultural Land Reserve Protection and Enhancement Committee (ALR-PEC), is based on a new ELC report, Case Studies of Agricultural Land Commission Decisions: The Need for Inquiry and Reform.
“Evidence is mounting that the Agricultural Land Commission’s Regional Panel system is not providing adequate guardianship of the province’s scarce agricultural lands,” says Ryan Green, the law student who authored the ELC report. The report identifies flaws in recent decisions, including:
• Approving tourism buildings on Agricultural Land Reserve land (ALR), on the assumption that they can later be removed and the land restored to agricultural use;
• Preferring the evidence of a developer’s consultants to that of public servants with expertise in agriculture; • Approving the removal of land from the ALR without sufficiently testing key evidence; and
• Failing to consult the local farming community when making a decision that would affect them.
For most of the history of the ALR, one provincial body has been responsible for making Reserve decisions. However, in May 2002, the Agricultural Land Commission was restructured by transferring decision-making power to six Regional Panels. The ELC report examines four decisions made under the new regime: 1. A decision to remove prime agricultural land from the ALR in Abbotsford; 2. A decision to remove grazing land near Invermere; 3. A decision to remove agricultural land in Courtenay in exchange for the inclusion of land in Comox; and 4. A decision to allow 64 residential villas to be built on a golf course on ALR land in Sechelt.
“The flaws in the decisions analyzed in this report show that there must be a full inquiry into all decisions made by the Regional Panels since they were established in 2002, to determine how the system can be fixed” says Dave Sands, of the ALR-PEC.