Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bill Bennett: Bill Tieleman should get out of Vancouver - my constituents wanted Agricultural Land Reserve changes!

BC Cabinet Minister Bill Bennett
ALR move is no Liberal 'conspiracy' to pave over the province, cabinet minister responsible responds to Tieleman column.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday April 15, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"I think Mr. Tieleman should get out of downtown Vancouver before he claims there is no poor quality land in the ALR."
- Cabinet Minister Bill Bennett in an April 9 Facebook comment
Not every column critical of BC Liberal government policy gets a direct online response from the minister responsible -- or sees that comment later removed from the minister's personal Facebook page.
Nor does a prominent BC Liberal supporter usually openly attack that policy online.
Receiving a colourfully-worded call from the minister on a Sunday night in response to your email requests for an interview, however, is most unusual of all!
But that's what happened after I wrote about cabinet Minister Bill Bennett's controversial plans to radically change the Agricultural Land Reserve in last week's Tyee column.
The straight-shooting Bennett, who introduced legislative changes to make it easier to remove property from the Agricultural Land Reserve in the Interior, the North and the Kootenays as part of the government's "core review" of operations, didn't like the column.
Reader Jan Halvorson posted a link to that column on Bennett's Facebook page, asking his views about "increasing population while decreasing ALR."
Bennett told me in an interview Sunday April 13 that the post later disappeared because "it probably means that I got rid of somebody" -- meaning he unfriended them.
Regardless, Bennett was clear that he decided to change the ALR because he has been "listening to his constituents for 13 fucking years!"
Liberals' 'Achilles heel'
Bennett may be particularly sensitive because he also got blasted on Facebook by Bill Eggert, owner and winemaker of award-winning Fairview Cellars winery near Oliver, B.C.
Eggert not only knows the Agricultural Land Reserve, he's a BC Liberal supporter -- and not happy with the government's changes.
Eggert wrote: "Love you Bill, but damn it, I can't be onside on this one. Farmland is farmland Bill... I worry how this will fall out with the party.
"No one has done well that went after the ALR. I have no illusions. I know why this is happening. I get very nervous when cabinet ministers with a legal background are discussing the merits of farmland.
"This issue is the Achilles heel of this party. You don't have a good record. I won't drag up the past, but you know what I'm talking about," Eggert concluded ominously.
Bennett continued on Facebook: "The irony of this debate is that the changes to the legislation will not help nor hinder use of 'agricultural land.' It will only help where the land is in the ALR and is not 'agricultural land.' Those who do not believe need only drive thru the EK with an ALR map in hand. It would be a conspiracy-busting experience."
Eggert fired back: "Many have stood in front of the ALC [Agricultural Land Commission, which governs the ALR] to say this land or that was not agricultural land. Leave it up to the ALC to decide. This is not your job Bill. Leave it at arm's length."
'This is me listening to my constituents': Bennett
In my interview, Bennett strongly argued that the ALC process is unfair, despite the fact that there is a clear, simple process for removing land from the ALR and that the commissioners who decide are all appointed either by cabinet, in the case of regional chairs and vice-chairs, or by the minister of agriculture.
One could argue that if anyone is keeping "poor quality land" in the ALR, it is commissioners appointed by a BC Liberal government deciding on BC Liberal government-controlled rules.
But Bennett thinks otherwise, blaming the legislation originally introduced by Dave Barrett's NDP government in 1974 to protect the five per cent of B.C. land regarded as agriculturally important, and saying that local people in his East Kootenay region have been ignored.
"It doesn't really address the fundamental problem in some areas of the province, which you don't seem to be aware of... that there is a ton of land within the reserve that you can't grow anything on," he said.
"And people own that land, they're B.C. citizens, lots of them vote for the NDP. The irony of this is, these are very ordinary people... whose land is no good for agriculture, and what do you do with these people? What do you tell them, that their land is sterilized forever?
"This is not my idea. This is not redneck, former lawyer, developer Bill Bennett wanting to pave over the Agricultural Land Reserve. This is Bill Bennett the MLA, listening to his constituents for 13 fucking years.
"And this is what they want me to do, so I get really upset when people say that this something other than what it is. This is me listening to my constituents -- the majority of rancher farmers who live here want us to do that. And if you want to talk to them, I'll give you their names and phone numbers."
Bennett insisted the changes to the legislation were "not a conspiracy by the BC Liberals or by Bill Bennett to pave over all the agricultural land in the Kootenays or the Cariboo or the North."
"I grew up in a farming community, my family comes from farm people, I married a dairy farmer, we grow stuff in my backyard," he said. "I'm about as rural as they get."
Why not work with the NDP?
So I asked Bennett, why not work with the NDP to find a mutually agreeable solution instead of this battle? Or is that naïve?
"No, you're not naïve, and I know you know the answer. I mean, I've read your stuff, I know who you are and I've got time for you. You're a decent guy, you drink wine and you said something borderline nice about me [on Shaw TV's Voice of BC]... and I appreciate that.
"But you know as well as I do that if we had the conversation with the NDP two months ago, three months, four months ago, all hell breaks lose and this becomes a political issue and the substance of the debate just disappears.
"You can't have a substantial, rational, non-political debate about the Agricultural Land Commission in British Columbia -- you know damn well you can't!"
I didn't disagree with that assessment, but pointed out in return that Bennett's approach isn't fostering a substantive debate either.
Bennett doesn't agree with my observation that there is a simple, straightforward way for landowners to remove property classified as within the ALR.
But the government's own Agricultural Land Commission website spells it out clearly:
"If you wish to subdivide or use your land for non-farm purposes or exclude your land from the ALR, you must submit an application to the Commission and obtain its approval.
"The Commission strives to process your application within 90 days of receipt. However, the length of time to process your application depends on the type of application and its complexity.
"The more information you supply, the better the Commission can understand your request. How does your proposal benefit agriculture? Does your proposal impact negatively on the potential for farming in your area? How does your proposal relate to the responsibility of the Commission to preserve agricultural lands? These issues are paramount to the Commission's decision.
"The Commission consists of a minimum of seven members. The Chair and Vice-Chairs are appointed by Cabinet. Other members of the Commission are appointed by the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management [now Minster of Agriculture]. The Commissioners are knowledgeable in agriculture, land use planning and local government."
The process isn't good enough for Bill Bennett or the BC Liberals though, even if overall land protected has shrunk by 94,795 hectares since 1974.
Bennett clearly believes what he is saying, but is his position plausible when the government already holds all the cards?

If you are concerned about the government's recent changes to the ALR, join nearly 8,000 others who have signed an online petition here.

NOTE: Versions of my column in 24 Hours Vancouver and The Tyee may have been inadvertently unclear - Bill Bennett responded to my requests for an interview about the ALR and his comments on Facebook about my previous column - I appreciate his taking the time to call despite our disagreement on the ALR and respect him for doing so.



Anonymous said...

Work with the NDP? That has to be a joke right? The NDP and especially The Left do not comprise it's their way and only their way. If there's no comprise reached at in left wing blogs in arguments such as this one, why would anyone want to work with the NDP, esp. when the environmentalists and the urban Left have taken over that party.

We won't run out of farmland. In fact during the winter we are supplied with greens from California, not here.

I've known a few NDP MLAs who don't listen their constituents let alone the province.

There's no drought here in B.C.

There needs to be balance. If a farm is unprofitable, and has a lot less agricultural capacity than it had before, then why should it be kept as a farm, unless the farm's primary existence can be changed, from hay to dairy, or something else?

cfvua said...

Bennett's "constituents" from Calgary are pushing for access to water from large ponds situated on ALR land in the Northeast. As well as access to ALR land for camps, storage yard and for their contractors facilities, so these contractors can locate out of city limits. ( think not?? Ask Shell, Progress, CNRL and the OGC if they really have offices inside Fort St John or conveniently outside)
Since they can get a permit to drill on any farm or ranch land already why not support communities instead of sprawl. Bennett also wants to be the one to push the go ahead button on site c. The only thing that might prevent it would be a group of farmers who can illustrate that the Peace River valley is the furthest north market garden in BC. So why not drive up the price of ag land by putting an industrial price on it. Every farm/ ranch based constituent wants that don't they, when they want to purchase the neighbour's land
some day. Right?

scotty on denman said...

@"comprise [sic]"Anon-

Agricultural profitability goes up and down---you're quite correct about California comprising a strong factor in that profitability from time to time.

Farmable soil, on the other hand, is what it is and, once it's gone, it's gone for good. The ALR should not be compromised by losing the soil of which it's comprised permanently to other uses. It'll come in handy when California has to start paying the real cost of watering the desert---especially these days, as we're expecting the worst drought in the South West in five hundred years this summer and a general climatic warming and drying trend throughout the once mighty "bread basket" state.

Anonymous said...

Scotty on Denman, it's a bit of a hypocritical comment. Yes farmland soil over time does "wear out", at a point it is not arable as it was let's say 40 to 70 years ago because of soil conditions.

Consider the growing season in California is longer than it is here because of not only climate but also latitude.

It's amazing the remark (worst drought in 500 years), considering
the degree of agriculture in the Central Valley only goes back to the mid 1800s. 500 years past is 1514, the Spaniards hadn't even sailed near the California coast yet. First landing was in 1549 at San Diego, moving up the coast to what is San Francisco in c. 1550.

Typical of the Left to get wide eyed and over extend the facts.

I am all for protection of arable farmland, but if the land holding is not 100% profitable for the farm family, at least let some limited secondary use so it is still farm and perhaps something that is lightly intrusive. Even the Islands Trust dictates what types of land use occurs on Denman Island. In the Comox Valley it is the Regional District if not the established district that sets land usage. The ALR is the next step above that in terms of agricultural land use and the District has to petition the ALR for such release to non agricultural use.

There will not be wholesale abolition of farmland.

scotty on denman said...

Hey, "Comprise [sic]"! I'd be a hypocrite if I declared for soil preservation then set about doing the opposite.

Wouldn't it be more hypocritical to assure there won't be wholesale abolition of farmland---then qualify that assurance by excepting holdings that aren't "100% profitable"...? Seems to me THAT sort of criterion would most assuredly eliminate farmland, wholesale!

You seem to imply you are "typical of the Left" with wide-eyed notions like , "...soil over time does wear out" because of...uh,...well, because of "soil conditions..." and that drought in California can't be measured for periods prior to European settlement because..., um,... well, because that was before Europeans got there---kinda like dinosaurs couldn't have existed millions of years ago because their weren't any archeologists back then---and other extension of the facts. Just asking because otherwise it seems you're trying to mock Lefties.

Perhaps a philosopher such as yourself could answer me a question: could one have been a chauvinist before there was a Lieutenant Chauvin?

...Don't worry, that was in the 1830s...

Anonymous said...

Scott on Denman:

There's a big difference between
droughts in the 1500s and droughts today, namely the impact of such droughts on agriculture.

100% profitability on farms is the goal, but there are those which are break even or just about that.

There were droughts back in the age of dinosaurs too.

In regards to soil conditions, the can and do change.

Answer a question: Would the Left be so critical of an NDP government as they have been with a right wing government?

One has to wonder if Scotty on Denman actually lives on Denman Island or is one of the urbane Left wingers living on Denman St in the West End and hasn't done a two week visit to a farm out in Chilliwack because the Urban Left's world ends at New Westminster's waterfront.

Anonymous said...

At Anon 9:11, your comment is nothing but BS. I makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Tielman, I would simply ask that have you ever owned ALR acreage of any size? Have you ever investigated the ALC decision process? Have you ever made application to the ALC? Many of us, in my neighbourhood have and were treated like crap. The ALC members are NOT educated in farm or land use, economics ( god help you mention that terminlogy) and are sooooo removed from the marketplace they are mushrooms. You appear to be a very large windbag for the NDP and thats ok EXCEPT on this issue you are blind beyond belief. I can only hope you can do real journalism before writing anymore about BILL 24 or on this matter until you attain real information from real property owners, not just the select few. I am available to discuss this anytime. I do not vote for either the Liberals nor the NDP.