Bill 24 challenged by BC’s agriculture community
By Angela Espinoza, News Editor
On April 3, members of BC’s food and agricultural communities, with support from the NDP, proposed the British Columbia local food act (in response to bill 24, agricultural land commission amendment act, 2014). Bill 24, which quietly went through a first reading by BC legislature on March 27, has been controversial due to its numerous changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and Agricultural Land Commission.
Amongst the changes are adjustments to district boundaries, “panels,” and “panel regions.” “Panels” in bill 24 refer to areas of agricultural land owned in the defined “panel regions”: these include regions such as the Interior, Island, Kootenay, North, Okanagan, and South Coast. Each of the six designated regions has since been labelled one of two “zones.” Zone one consists of the Island, Okanagan, and South Coast panel regions, while zone two is defined as, “consisting of all geographic areas of British Columbia not in Zone one.”
Boundaries are nothing new to the agricultural community. However, some are speculating that bill 24 exists primarily as a guideline for interested oil and gas opportunities, pointing to a heavy focus on farmland, the introduction of zoning, no mention of farm-produced goods or economics, and zone two’s notably loose definition.
Bill 24’s moving to a first reading in government without consulting members of the community has not ceased speculation either. In regards to the government’s lack of public communication, chair of the BC Agriculture Council (BCAC) Rhonda Driediger told the Province, “We [BCAC] support updating the ALR, and have respected the government’s internal core review, but it’s time they openly engage with BC’s farming community especially as it applies to new or changing regulations.”
In response to bill 24, the local food act was established in legislature a week later. Amongst many members of the food and agriculture community, the BC Food Systems Network has actively supported the local food act. In addition, NDP leader Adrian Dix has openly supported and worked with the act during its development, and revealed the proposed act to the public.
Many of the changes proposed in the local food act are largely community- and economic-based. Clear definitions of “local food,” “local food assessment,” and “local food systems” are outlined under section one. “Purposes” under section two include, “To ensure a resilient, sustainable, and strong local food economy and agriculture land base in BC,” and “To improve and maximize economic return, and food security, from maintaining agricultural land for the purposes of farming, processing, and distributing food.” The act also pushes for more direct government involvement with the community and seeks to have members of the community fairly represented in future bill passing.
While bill 24 has not officially been passed yet, it has gotten through a first reading, which raises the stakes for the food and agricultural communities. Whether the local food act could see progression into a counter bill will rely heavily on the support of the public.