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Thousands of letters force B.C. to consider changes to farmland management bill

VICTORIA - Thousands of letters have forced the B.C. government to consider making changes to a proposed law affecting the management of the province's farmland.

The Agriculture Land Commission Act, known as Bill 24, was introduced in the legislature by the Liberals in March and proposed dividing the province's Agricultural Land Reserve into two zones.

The Agricultural Land Commission, which manages the reserve, would protect farmland from non-agricultural development in Zone 1 — Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan — where land is in the greatest demand.

But in Zone 2, which covers the rest of the province, farmers would have more flexibility in how they develop their land, opening the door to so-called value-added industries like food processing or to potential oil and gas development.

But Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said Tuesday the government received many complaints and concerns, some of which focused on food security, and he's now proposing changes to the bill.

He said the government received detailed letters from people in agriculture who supported the bill but "then you had others who focused on food security as their big issue, as to making sure that we continue to support agriculture and the land itself for future generations."

One of the changes spells out the criteria the Agricultural Land Commission must consider before making land-use decisions in Zone 2.

Another change allows the commission's chairman or a regional panel to refer land-use applications to the executive committee if a decision would have a substantial impact on the reserve.

NDP agriculture critic Nicholas Simons said the bill should never have been conceived, drafted, or tabled and it should not be passed.

"This is probably the worst piece of legislation I've seen in this house and I've seen a lot of bad legislation," said Simons.

Simons said the proposed law has no support in the province, and it's becoming more important to protect farmland because of climate change, which will result in a reduction in crops and an increase in prices.

"The impacts of climate change on our province make it even more important now than ever to ensure that we keep our options open for how and where we produce our food," he said.

"When we start closing down those options we may not feel them in our own lifetime, we may not feel them in our children's lifetime, but our grandchildren are going to feel them for sure."

A news release issued previously by the government has said the province has about 20,000 farms but three-quarters of them generate less than $50,000 in sales annually, and just 10 per cent of the land within the Agricultural Land Reserve generates about 85 per cent of total farm sales.

— by Keven Drews in Vancouver

"I personally received several

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