The provincial government’s new Minister of Agriculture hunkered down in Kelowna today.
Lana Popham, who served as the NDP’s agriculture critic for for eight years before she was sworn in as minister, held several meetings with industry stakeholders, after what she called a “lull” in communication as the new NDP government was sworn in.
But during a short break between meetings, Popham also briefed reporters on what she plans to accomplish now that she’s on the other side of the aisle.
Popham has three main policy objectives in her new role, one of which will very likely include overhauling the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission.
The government plans on consulting stakeholder groups and the public before making any decisions, but Popham said she believes the ALR should be returned to a single provincial zone, with one panel making decision on how the land is used.
That would mean undoing changes brought in by the Liberal government in 2014 that relaxed restrictions on development of protected farmland.
Undoing those changes would eliminate the regional panels that have been handing out decisions on land use and ALR exclusions, and re-tighten restrictions around the use of protected farmland across about 90 per cent of the province.
Popham said this would help combat “regional influence” of ALR land use decisions, such as exclusions for light industry.
“It’s very, very important to us to make sure the commission has absolute independence from government” and that there is “the least opportunity for political interference,” Popham said.
She also suggested her government would complete a boundary review of the ALR, making sure its boundaries are “more easily defensible.”
She said there have been “more” ALR exclusions than there “should be,” and that it’s causing competition between food production and development, which is driving up the price of farmland.
Popham also touched on what she said would be “one of the biggest shifts” in the province’s agriculture policy under the new government.
She said the government plans to institute a purchasing policy that would see 30 per cent of the food the province buys for its hospitals and extended care systems come directly from British Columbia.
Previous emphasis had been on international sales, she said, and her government believes that has left “a gap in domestic production.”
She said she’s also been mandated to revamp the “Buy BC” initiatives, to help local producers promote their products and increase consumer demand within the province.
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