Removing “food-growing” land from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) for industrial purposes doesn’t fit the mandate of the ALR, the province’s new Minister of Agriculture told The News Wednesday.
Two weeks ago, the City of Abbotsford approved a plan that will see an application sent to the Agricultural Land Commission to ask for the exclusion of around 500 acres of ALR land in Bradner, near the Langley border, and north of Abbotsford International Airport. That proposal – which the city says is necessary to address a lack of industrial land in Abbotsford and provide jobs for the future – met with significant opposition from Bradner residents, environmentalists and food security advocates.
Lana Popham, the new NDP Minister of Agriculture, was in Abbotsford Wednesday for a series of meetings and to tour the Animal Health Centre and other provincial facilities. In a brief interview with The News, she said she is familiar with the Abbotsford proposal, although it isn’t expected to be addressed by the ALC for several months.
And while she said she wouldn’t weigh in on the proposal, she did comment on the rationale the city has offered for the need to remove land from the ALR.
“As the Minister of Agriculture, I stand with the mandate of the Agricultural Land Reserve, which is to protect agricultural land and encourage farming. Removing food-growing lands for industrial purposes does not fit within that mandate. But that being said, part of our review of the Agricultural Land Reserve and Commission is to make sure it’s an independent commission and that there is the least opportunity for political interference, so I will not weigh in on that situation. It’s an independent commission, but I expect the Agricultural Land Commission to uphold the mandate for the reserve.”
Asked if that independence meant the provincial government wouldn’t use an order by cabinet to overturn an ALC decision – as has been done in the past – Popham said: “I can’t comment on that, I haven’t seen the proposal and I don’t believe it’s being reviewed by the commission for another three months, so I really can’t comment on that.”
Popham and the NDP have spoken about the need to “revitalize the Agricultural Land Reserve.” On Wednesday, Popham focused on the possibility of reversing a BC Liberal move several years ago that established two zones, with different criteria for how the removal of land from the ALR is evaluated. Such a change is unlikely to have a major effect on the Fraser Valley.
The government could also, however, choose to appoint a new head of the ALC, or replace the commissioners who rule on applications.