Bill 24, the agricultural land commission amendment act is continuing to be debated in the legislature. We are now debating an NDP motion:
“That Bill (No. 24) not be read a second time now but the subject matter be referred to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services and further that the committee be empowered to invite witnesses to appear before it to assist in its deliberations.”
Yesterday I spoke in support of the NDP amendment. The text of my speech is reproduced below.
Today the government further introduced a closure motion which means that they will bring the Bill to a vote before the sessions ends. The NDP, Independent Member V. Huntington from Delta South and I are all working together to try and convince the government that this Bill should not be passed.
A. Weaver: I wish I were so eloquent as the member for Cowichan Valley. I am enthralled every time the member speaks. It’s truly the most imaginative and entertaining speeches in the House, and I turn to the channel to watch each and every one of them, and I will be quoting several times the member for Cowichan Valley in my address to the amendment brought forward to us by the member for Nelson-Creston, who I am very grateful to for bringing this motion to the House.
I remind us all here that what we are debating is the motion “That Bill (No. 24) not be read a second time now but the subject matter be referred to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services and further that the committee be empowered to invite witnesses to appear before it to assist in its deliberations.”
I rise today to give my support to this amendment. When I took my place in speaking to Bill 24 two weeks ago, I argued that it failed in three main areas. It’s important for me to briefly outline these concerns so that I can demonstrate how this amendment addresses them.
The first point I raised was that there was not adequate notice given to this House or to the people of British Columbia of the government’s intentions to alter the operation of the ALR. There was nothing in the Liberal election campaign about this. I frankly fail to see how this has absolutely anything to do with the core review.
The second is that despite the promises of full consultation, the government failed to provide an adequate forum for opinions to be heard and continued to push this bill forward, despite widespread opposition. Even the Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Core Review acknowledged publicly on March 27 of this year when he said: “I know that we could have done a better job of consultations, and I take my mea culpa.”
I think it’s important to take a look at how the Oxford English Dictionary defines the term “mea culpa.” Here’s what it says: “Used as an exclamation or statement acknowledging one’s guilt or responsibility for an error.” So here we have the minister publicly recognizing that the government did not seek consultation on amending the ALC and the ALR, but he simply doesn’t care. Who needs a social licence for change? Who needs to consult with British Columbians? Heck, let’s just go like gangbusters to start dismantling any iconic institution within British Columbia.
Has the government not learned anything from what happened when they brought in the harmonized sales tax, otherwise known as the HST? I know many constituents who actually voted against the HST in the B.C. referendum, despite actually agreeing that the HST was better for business and supporting the tax because they thought it was good for the economy. They did so because they did not believe that they were consulted and felt that the process of bringing it in was undemocratic. Sure, you elect a government to govern, but you don’t elect a government to govern autocratically.
The third reason why, two weeks ago, I argued that Bill 24 was troubling is that the evidence put forward by soil scientists from across the province suggests that this is a poor piece of public policy. It’s designed to help a few at the expense of many.
I’m in support of this amendment, as it addresses my concerns regarding the need for public consultation and the importance of hearing voices from a diversity of British Columbians. By supporting this amendment, a thorough public engagement process can take place. It would allow government to solicit input from those who would be affected by this bill. It would also force government to more fully account for and address the evidence that many of us have been presenting in opposition to this bill.
For example, some of the statements concerning B.C.’s agricultural land put forward by the government to defend the bill is at odds with what our own expert soil scientists are telling us here, from our academic institutions in British Columbia. As a number of members have now noted, this bill appears to be a case of decision-based evidence making. Some, like my friend the member for Cowichan Valley, would call this jiggery-pokery.
Sending this bill to the Select Standing Committee on Finance would help alleviate this concern. It would allow the government to attempt to gain a social licence for Bill 24. It would give the government an opportunity to convince British Columbians that there’s no jiggery-pokery going on.
That’s such a wonderful word. It’s absolutely a wonderful word, and I think it’s never overused, and in this particular case here, it is entirely correct and appropriate. I hope to see many of my colleagues on opposition use the word to describe what we have before us here today, in the days ahead, as we discuss this bill.
Although I’ve heard from the government that they will not be supporting this amendment, I still have hope that if our arguments are persuasive enough, some members in government will reconsider and plead within their caucus to allow a free vote. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful signal to British Columbians if members of government stood with their constituents and actually supported the amendment.
I remind you: it’s the amendment that Bill 24 not be read a second time now but that the subject matter be referred to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services and, further, that the committee be empowered to invite witnesses to appear before it to assist in its deliberations.
To the members of the government, I ask you this: how many of you knew that you were running on a platform that included the beginning of the dismantling of the ALR and ALC? I suspect it’s none. Well, perhaps it’s one. As I mentioned before, the Hansard record shows that members of the Finance and Government Services Committee were surprised and unaware that input for the core review of the ALR and ALC was part of their expanded terms of reference.
I’ve received numerous letters from my constituents concerning this bill and in support of this amendment. I have received numerous letters from across the province of British Columbia concerning this bill and, in particular, the amendment before us. I’ve not received a single letter in support of Bill 24 or against the amendment before us. This is why it’s clear to me that British Columbians need the opportunity to have their voices heard. This can only be done by supporting the amendment before us.
Please allow me to outline some of the reasons why this bill needs to be referred to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. I’ll do that in the words of a number of comments I’ve received through my constituency office, and I’ll do so briefly and selectively.
Here is my first example:
“I also want to express concern that this Liberal government seems to be doing everything in its power to destroy this province and everything we love. As a citizen, I feel powerless, and I hope that by writing this e-mail you know the way I feel. I can’t speak for anybody else, but this feeling is very generalized, although not many know what to do about it. I feel extremely disappointed about the way politics is harming us these days. Between the federal Conservatives and the provincial Liberals, we are slowly but surely losing everything that we have been and are proud of being Canadian. I don’t know if there’s anything you can do, but I thought you should know the opinion and concerns of a citizen in your area.“
This constituent’s e-mail strikes at the very heart of the matter. The government does not have a social licence to move forward with this bill and so needs to refer it to committee as part of the process of trying to gain such a social licence.
Here’s another selection from a letter I received
“I urge you not to make any changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act that would have the effect of weakening the protection of agricultural land. Please bear in mind that the Liberal Party did not seek or receive any mandate from the people of British Columbia on this issue in the last election. There have been no public consultations. I oppose proposed changes that would make it easier to use zone 2 agricultural land for non-farm uses.”
Yet another — again very selective.
“I’m writing to you as a concerned B.C. resident to urge you to strengthen and protect our ALR farmland. Public consultation has been promised, and I’m asking the government to make sure that this happens in a meaningful way. We need” — in capital letters — “all our farmland preserved as such. Canada is not a food-secure nation, and we need to do all that we can to protect what farmland does currently exist. It should be a top governmental priority.”
These are people who are responding with respect to, specifically, the amendment before us, requesting consultation, desperately seeking means and ways for their voices to be heard in the dismantling of this iconic institution here in British Columbia, the agricultural land reserve.
That e-mail went on and said: “There are some fundamental flaws in Bill 24….” I recognize that we are discussing the amendment to it, but in outlining some of these flaws, it’s important to see why this constituent and others desperately want to have an opportunity to be consulted.
“…flaws in Bill 24, which will, in effect, dismantle our ALR. B.C. farmers and the public are calling for you to listen and kill Bill 24.“
Well, frankly, I think we should have a consultation process prior to killing it. If that comes out through the consultation process, then let’s move forward and kill Bill 24.
The letter goes on.
“I myself was at the Legislature lawns on Family Day asking our MLAs and Premier to cease this attack on the food supply. We’ll continue to protest until you listen and follow the sensible route of removing all talk of altering our ALR in specific ways, as outlined in Bill 24.“
And here it comes again.
“Looking forward to public consultation on this vital issue. Please do all you can to ensure that this happens.“
These aren’t people just writing with random streams of consciousness. These are individual letters by constituents, by members of the general public across British Columbia, demanding an opportunity to be heard through the consultation process, a process that has not happened to this day. And frankly, consultation does not involve reading a few e-mails and sending a few responses that are all the same to everyone who sends one in.
I also received an e-mail from a concerned decision-maker in the Kootenays. This is not a regular citizen, this is a senior decision-maker in the Kootenays. He brings up yet another important point that really underlines the need for this bill to go to committee. If the motion before us were to fail, the government will not have the time or process for this decision-maker’s voice to be heard. In his own words, he said this.
“I urge you to allow regions that wish to remain in the agricultural land reserve zone 1” — including the Kootenays, from his perspective — “not be arbitrarily categorized as zone 2.”
Where was the consultation as to what went into zone 1 or zone 2? Where did that come from? Did someone just wake up one day and realize: “Well, this is my riding. I’m zone 2. That’s your riding. That’s zone 1”? There was no consultation over that. Nobody knows where that came from. As far as we’re concerned, it was just made up one day. Sounds like jiggery-pokery to me.
The letter continues.
A. Weaver: Hon. Speaker, we’re hearing from the member opposite that we may be able to start a fundraising campaign that each time the word “jiggery-pokery” is used, we could put, say, $10 into a communal pot and perhaps donate it to a homeless shelter or towards the development of a provincial child poverty plan. Perhaps we should do something like that.
Deputy Speaker: But of course the relevance of that in the current debate….
A. Weaver: I’m sorry, hon. Speaker. I had to react to the….
A. Weaver: As pointed out by the member for Delta South, this could be a recommendation coming out of the consultation that could happen, were this amendment to actually be passed.
I continue — back to the more important task of discussing this particular decision-maker’s arguments — strong arguments, compelling arguments — for the need for consultation on the bill before us — that is, in supporting the amendment we’re debating now. He says the following:
“As a decision-maker I refer you to the recent installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Summary for Policymakers. ‘Findings show the earth and its inhabitants are already experiencing the ever-increasing impacts of global warming: icecaps and arctic sea ice melting and collapsing; more extreme weather–related events like droughts and floods; dying corals; freshwater supplies; rising and increasing acidic oceans.‘”
You may wonder the relevance of this, but it is relevant, because if there were a consultation process, the scientific community would have an opportunity to bring to the attention of those in the select standing committee the importance of thinking about climate change and its effects on our agricultural land reserve and the potential effects on our food supply in the years ahead.
The letter writer goes on and says:
“Our food and water supplies, critical infrastructure, security, health, economies and communities will face ever-escalating risks, possibly leading to increased human displacement, migration and violent conflict.“
“Some argue we must choose between growing the economy and protecting the planet. In response, the report states: ‘Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, making poverty reduction more difficult, further eroding food security and prolonging existing and creating new poverty traps — the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.’“
I am beginning to wonder about the relevance of this e-mail to the debate here, but it does come forward as we get to the….
Deputy Speaker: You’re not making the Chair’s job terribly easy.
A. Weaver: I will say that the member for Cowichan Valley sees a clear link, and that’s what matters to me, hon. Speaker.
The letter writer continues, and he is getting to the need for consultation here.
“I believe that this bill, although presented as a way to support” — he keeps talking about the bill, but he’s going to get to consultation — “as a way to support agriculture is actually framed to support non-farm use of agricultural lands. It has the potential to undermine the integrity of the ALR its regulatory, the ALC.“
That was the hon. member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast passing behind me and breaking the longstanding tradition of the Legislature not to walk behind a speaker while he’s on the camera.
A. Weaver: It’s a rule I just made up, hon. Speaker.
The letter continues:
“Further and regrettably, the changes are not focused. They do not take into account the very present danger of climate change for B.C. agriculture and food security. Again, please refer” — that’s speaking to the government, of course, not to me or my colleagues in the opposition here — “to the IPCC report for information compiled by highly respected international scientists” — that’s nice of them to say that, frankly — “for to you make informed, long-term decisions that will affect generations of the future.”
This constituent, this decision-maker in the Kootenays area is desperately seeking an opportunity to be heard, to have his voice heard, to frankly, have his area heard, because he doesn’t know how his area appeared in zone 2. I don’t know how his area appeared in zone 2.
Does the hon. member for Cowichan Valley know? Probably not. How about the hon. member from Delta South? I don’t think so. Frankly, no one knows how the Kootenays ended up in zone 2.
This decision-maker outlined three reasons why he was concerned about Bill 24 and the reason why consultation is so important. We are not presently debating the bill but, rather, the importance of sending this bill to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.
Please let me quickly outline the five points that the standing committee would need to hear. They are all eminently reasonable and need to be reflected upon. There is simply no opportunity for this to happen if this motion before us were to fail. Here are the points outlined to me by this decision-maker from the Kootenays.
“Point 1, regarding the split into two zones with additional requirements added to the basic mandate for zone 2 — that is, 90 percent of the ALR — the intent seems to be to weaken the primary focus on agriculture.“
Hon. Speaker, we’re told this wasn’t the case. The public still thinks that this is the case. The public needs to have an opportunity to have their questions answered directly through a consultation process, which will only happen if this bill goes to the standing committee.
The second point, regarding the delegation of decision-making to six regional panels.
“This makes decision-making unduly subject to regional and local development pressures and increases the likelihood of inconsistency and decisions that are perceived as unfair.“
How is this important point ever going to be heard without the opportunity for it to be brought forward to the select standing committee?
Point 3. The legislation “weakens long-term farmland protection on the pretext of improving farmers’ businesses, when the real failure since the mid-1980s has been on the part of successive provincial governments” — here the decision-maker is being truly non-partisan, even pre-dating the period of the 1990s that we hear so much about in this House around us here; he’s talking about since the mid-1980s — “which have failed to recognize farmers and ranchers and the services they provide for B.C. — food, but also environmental goods and services.”
How will that important statement, that important piece of information be understood and heard if it were not brought before the standing committee to be reflected upon prior to the passing of this bill?
The same decision-maker, who has an awful lot to say, continued and said the following.
“We understand that for food, we need viable farms and ranches. Viable farms and ranches need access to land and water for their operations. I’m aware there are pinch points in the ALR-ALC system that need to be worked out with farmers and ranchers, and I also know that 95 percent of the applications the ALR receives are from non-farm landowners.“
“I did ask myself whether there was anything good here for B.C. agrifood. Without full consultation with stakeholders, we simply don’t know. We are not sure the bill faithfully reflects the priorities of B.C. farmers and ranchers. Key B.C. farm and ranch organizations have expressed concerns about the bill, and they have asked for more involvement. They have been consulted but only to the point of being shown the changes the provincial government intended to make.“
Consultation is not marketing. Consultation is a two-way dialogue, not a one-way marketing job. These organizations that this decision-maker from the Kootenays so succinctly points out are, clearly, very troubling.
“Since the summer of 2013,” he continues, “the ALC has not been consulted at all.”
He wonders why the provincial government is in such a hurry to push through the enabling legislation framework before it will sit down with agricultural organizations, the ALC and local governments to discuss the regulatory details. He is urging the provincial government that before proceeding any further with the legislation, to consult properly with farmers, ranchers, local governments, the ALC, food systems, organizations and the public, as it did with the Water Sustainability Act, to ensure that land use legislation is collaboratively updated in the long-term agrifood interests of British Columbians.
The government will have lots of time to push forward this consultation. Russia just signed a $400 billion natural gas deal with China with a price at about $10 per million Btu, clearly making B.C.’s natural gas not economical at current or market Asian prices that were actually set through this recent deal. There is no rush to tear apart our agricultural institutions for this pipedream of LNG prosperity down the road. Let’s take the time to do this right.
Hon. Speaker, the letter I was sent from the Kootenay decision-maker was incredibly thoughtful and reasonable and well thought out. Surely the government wants the opportunity to hear from more people like this.
Finally, from the point of view of letters but not from the important information I must convey through you today, hon. Speaker, to the government, here’s a letter I received that I must admit I find deeply troubling. It says the following:
“I am writing to ask you to do what you can to stop or delay the passage of Bill 24 so that the public has more time to realize how the bill will affect their future and the future of their children. Canada’s traditional way of dealing with population growth is to spread. It worked for a few decades, but now it’s killing us. Urban sprawl is polluting the air we breathe with car exhaust and paving over our farmland. Meanwhile, those who can only see as far as short-term financial gain continue to cover the province with poorly planned, poorly serviced and often poorly executed condos and housing developments.
“The Fraser Institute should not be guiding policy in B.C. We need the ALR more than ever to protect our renowned farmland. Not only will this assure a local food supply; it will force civil planners to find more creative, sustainable solutions to population growth. We need to build up, not out over our farmland. After all, rich or poor or in between, we all need to eat. We all need to breathe.”
There are so many citizens in British Columbia desperately trying to have their voices heard and sending all of us hundreds and hundreds of e-mails, and we only have time to share a few selected quotes from a number of them. This last writer raised a very troubling concern for me. His e-mail mentions the Fraser Institute.
Now, I wonder: were they consulted? Has the Fraser Institute’s 2009 publication entitled “The B.C. Agricultural Land Reserve: a critical assessment” been adopted as a roadmap for B.C. policy by the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Energy and Mines and Responsible for Core Review?
I don’t know. None of us on this side of the House know. That’s because there was no consultation over this. This report, which I am troubled to think perhaps was consulted, says the following: “The very premise of the ALR is anachronistic. Advances in agronomy and biotechnology have dramatically increased yields, thereby easing demand for farmland.”
Shocking. But what’s even more shocking is that I don’t think many people will actually know what the word “anachronistic” means, and it may be misunderstood. Let’s again, once more, appeal to the Oxford English Dictionary. Anachronistic means “of the nature of or involving an anachronism” — where anachronism is defined as anything done or existing out of date — hence, anything which was proper to a former age but is, or if it existed would be, out of harmony with the present.
For the members opposite who may not be aware of what the word “agronomy” means, it’s defined in the Oxford English Dictionary to mean the practice or the science of crop production and soil management.
So this is what it said. The very premise of the ALR is anachronistic, suggesting that it’s out of date and that advances in soil science and biotechnology have increased yields, thereby easing demand for farmland. Is this what was consulted by the government? Is this what led us to where we are today? Is this the reason why so many more want to be heard and want to be consulted by allowing the select standing committee to actually see this bill and engage British Columbians?
We don’t know one way or the other, for sure, whether or not the government got the idea from the Fraser Institute report. But I know that the former Minister of Agriculture, Corky Evans…. I’m quoting now from my colleagues to the right of me. He thinks so.
In a recent letter to the Kootenay coop news, Corky Evans said, after some ramblings about how he’s not very familiar with the technology of blogs, etc…. It was a very enlightening letter. This is what he said:
“The government didn’t think this up. They got it from the Fraser Institute.“
Whether or not this is true is immaterial. What’s important, of course, is that if this bill were to be sent to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, we could explore this further, British Columbians could explore this further and the Fraser Institute could explore this further.
While there is some speculation about whether or not the policy is being influenced by the Fraser Institute, let me be clear. There is no speculation that science or scientists have any influence. They have not. And their voices need to be heard as well.
The public wants policy to flow from evidence. That’s called evidence-based decision-making. The public does not want evidence to flow from policy. That’s called decision-based evidence-making or — again, this is the third time, as the member from Cowichan Valley would point out — jiggery-pokery.
By passing the amendment, we would provide the only opportunity for science and our soil science community to contribute to the consultation process.
On April 3 of this year the Pacific Regional Society of Soil Science issued a press release. It’s a very long press release. I suspect that I’m running short of time here, so I won’t have time to read it, but I would encourage anyone who’s listening to this to simply type the following words into Google: “Concerns about the future of the agricultural land reserve in B.C. were highlighted at a March 29th workshop.” If one types those words into Google, one will get a very long press release that outlines all of the reasons why it’s critical for the scientific community to be heard in this consultation process that would come by sending this bill to the select standing committee.
Scientists do not send out press releases very often. They do so out of a last resort, out of desperation. Our soil scientists are crying out to be heard. So I will be supporting this amendment, and I urge all members of this House to do the same. I say this to the members opposite: stand up and show the people of British Columbia that you believe in the health of our democratic institutions. Stand up and show the people of British Columbia that you are representing the wishes of your constituents, and stand up and support this amendment for the well-being of future generations.
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