Time to rethink deregulation of the ALC

Hon. Bill Bennett continued his public assault on the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) Friday. This time he targeted his own colleague Hon. Norm Letnick, the Minister of Agriculture, and reaffirmed his personal commitment to Bill 24, the ALC (Agricultural Land Commission) Amendment Act.

Minister Letnick was reappointed to the agriculture file on April 11th, and he should be congratulated for his more consultative and respectful approach.

Last Friday Bennett said,

“There is the potential for changes, but they wouldn’t be anything fundamental,” and

“The two zones, that’s not changing… that’s going to be part of the bill. It doesn’t make sense to even do the legislation if you don’t have the two zones.”

While patting Letnick on the back, Bennett diminished the Ministers attempts to fix the mess created by Bennett’s sloppy attack on the ALR in recent months. Last summer Bennett pounced on his opportunity through the core review and when he introduced Bill 24 at the end of Marchhe admitted that he had been waiting a long time to make the proposed changes.

As a result of the instability in the Ministry of Agriculture and the core review, Minister Bennett had the freedom to propose the most aggressive, ill-conceived and ill-timed amendments to the ALC’s legislation in its 40-year existence.

Bennett has been the face of the proposed changes and Premier Christy Clark has given Bennett all the space he needs. When the Premier appointed Bennett as the Minister responsible for the Core Review she mandated him to,

“Free up as many resources in government as possible to redeploy to our core objectives as government,” and

“Consider regulatory reform and other deregulation options that are presented.”

It is important to note that while Bennett was given virtually free reign to anything in their way, he did have some boundaries,

“Government can be proud of the significant work we have undertaken,” but,

“We must continue to find ways to innovate and deregulate while maintaining high public confidence in our environmental, employee and public safety regimes.”

In other words Premier Clark wanted him to be respectful of the public and Bennett has taken up all the space he has been given and then some. In his determined effort to break up the ALR he has severely damaged public confidence in the government.

The government is moving at lightening speed to deregulate. In addition to these proposed changes to the ALC, an amended parks act, changing forest tenures and the ill-fated Order in Council that called for most of BC’s LNG development to be exempt from environmental assessments are just a few recent examples of the government’s desire to ensure industrial developers have unfettered access to British Columbia.

The government has come under immense pressure to back off Bill 24. Stakeholders groups, experts, farmers and the public are speaking out against the legislation and just last week the BC Agriculture Council reversed their support for it moving ahead.

As a last ditch effort, Letnick is attempting to salvage something from the government’s efforts, but Bill 24 should never see the light of day. The proposed consultations are too little, too late; the fact the Bill made it to the floor of the Legislature is an affront to good governance and public process.

Regulations are the only thing that protects our interest in our natural resources. It is important to ensure that there is not duplication of services and bureaucratic waste in our government, but it is even more critical that the provincial government does not sacrifice long-term public interest for short-term gain.

Bill 24 is scheduled to be debated in the Legislature in the last four weeks of the sitting and it is not too late to have your voice heard.

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