Originally published on the ECOreport.
The firing of Agricultural Land Commission Chair Richard Bullock has already been called the latest step in the BC Government’s war on agriculture. Though he was appointed by cabinet, Bullock was the head of a supposedly “independent administrative tribunal dedicated to preserving agricultural land and encouraging farming in British Columbia.” He also opposed Bill 24, which weakened protections on 90% of the province’s agricultural land reserve (ALR). There are huge issues with oil and gas underneath some of the agricultural land in the Northeast corner of BC. On April 8, cabinet overrode the ALC to remove 4,000 hectares from the Agricultural Land Reserve in the Peace River Valley, so they could be flooded if/when the Site C Dam is built. Bullock defended agricultural lands against these developments. Yesterday, the government dismissed him in a 30-second phone call. This raises questions about BC’s not so “independent” Agricultural Commission.
Fired For Doing Your Job
Bullock told Globe and Mail reporter Mark Hume, “From one point of view, getting fired for doing your job is maybe a badge of honor. I’m leaving this job with my head held high.”
“BC has just lost one of its strongest champions for agriculture,” wrote New Democrat agriculture spokesperson Lana Popham. “Usually knowledge & passion for farming would be an asset… for the BC Liberals it’s an impediment.”
BC’s Minister of Agriculture, Norm Letnick, said, “I do not want this decision to linger over the coming months, with rumor and speculation. That is not fair to anyone, least of all to agriculture in British Columbia.”
An Independent Tribunal
Yet, as Adam Olsen, Interim Leader of BC’s Green Party, explains, “The Agricultural Land Commission is supposed to be an independent tribunal. It is supposed to be independent of the government and I think what we have seen over the last 24 or 48 hours is that it is not. If the criticism of Richard Bullock is that he just didn’t do what the government said, then we don’t have an independent tribunal.”
He added, “Rich Bullock has faced a lot of challenges right from the very beginning. He did a great job when he first came in, in assessing the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the Agricultural Land Commission. He proposed some very important recommendations for the Agricultural Land Reserve and from what I can see those have been frustrated by the government.”
Peace River Valley Has The Capacity
In her submission to the Joint Review Panel on the Site C Dam, agrologist Wendy Holm, M. Sc., P. Ag., stated, “Fifty-two percent of all foods consumed in BC are imported. Forty-four percent of the foods that can be economically grown in BC are still being imported. Fruits and vegetables are the most deficient categories of those food sources. The Peace River Valley has the capacity to produce a wide range of produce. The land to be flooded is capable of providing an annual, local, sustainably produced supply of fresh vegetables to over a million people.”
This potential, illustrated in the photographs on this page, has not been realized because the land has been overshadowed by the proposed Site C Dam for decades.
Some question the wisdom of removing land from the ALR when North America’s principal supplier of fruits and produce, California, is in the midst of a water crises. Food prices are already rising.
“Every time we go to the grocery store it’s just a little bit more. We are already starting to feel it. It is completely irresponsible for us to undermine the capacity of our province to feed our citizens. We must not rely entirely on other jurisdictions to provide our food. It is short-term thinking and we must have a long-term view on how we are going to feed ourselves,” said Olsen.
He believes the BC Liberal party has long wanted to diminish the ALC, but not enjoyed public support for this idea. Its recent actions are connected to an election promise to develop natural gas. They do not seem to realize that, with the onset of climate change, agricultural lands like the Peace River Valley could be very important. (Editor’s Note: Furthermore, natural gas needs to be kept in the ground.)
“I worry that future generations will pay for our having diminished our agricultural capacity,” said Olsen.
A New Policy Framework For the ALC
The Minister of Agriculture said, “Our government is starting the implementation of a new policy framework for the ALC. Bill 24, our new legislation to modernize the operations of the ALC, help farmers grow their businesses, and support food production for future generations, is taking effect. We also have new regional commissioners in place. The Throne Speech highlighted that soon there will be a new Agrifood and Seafood Action Plan, and Bill 24 regulations are being finalized and will be announced shortly. This is the right time for new leadership of the Agricultural Land Commission.”
Former Saanich mayor Frank Leonard will replace Bullock. Though Popham has been quick to point out Leonard has no agricultural background, he was a past co-chair of the Farm Assessment Review Panel. Olsen pointed out that, as mayor of Saanach for 18 years, Leonard also oversaw a largely agricultural community.
According to Letnick, “Mr. Leonard brings a fresh perspective, new ideas, and extensive experience in both business and in government. Mr. Leonard’s extensive skill set, especially in local government and in business, will be an ideal complement to the regional panels.”
A Few Short Months Until November
He thanked “former Chair Richard Bullock for his hard work and commitment. The BC government appreciates his efforts and contribution during his five years as ALC Chair.”
“I’m curious about his firing because Mr Bullock’s term was going to end in November. I know the minister said he wanted to go in a different direction, but it is hard to come up with a great reason to justify expediting that process just a few short months,” said Olsen.
As Bullock is to be compensated for his lost wages, British Columbians will effectively be paying for two ALC Chairs until the end of November.
Photo Credits for Peace River Valley produce images: Larry Peterson; Andrea Morison; Andrea Morrison; Larry Peterson; Damien Gillis