Social media help rally opposition
Protests fromfarmers and public prompt gov’t to amend planned changes to ALR.
By Tamara Leigh and Bryden Winsby
hen Minister of Energy Bill Bennett announced proposed changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in early April, a dramatic chain of events was triggered that kept farmers and the public guessing what would happen next. Under Bill 24, a two-zone system would be established for the ALR. Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley and Okanagan would be Zone 1 lands, retaining the same restrictions and protections currently offered under the ALC Act. The rest of the province, including the North, Interior, and Kootenays would be classified as Zone 2, and operate under less stringent rules for development of agricultural land.
The bill also included giving decision-making authority to regional panels across the province appointed by the government.
What has happened since has been nothing short of dramatic. Defenders of the ALR mobilized quickly to voice their opposition. Farmers from the Kootenays flew to Victoria to voice their concerns.
Letters poured in and a grassroots social media protest made headlines for farmer ‘selfie’ photos, better known in this instance as ‘felfies,’ featuring protest signs and the hashtag #farmers4ALR.
The storm of protest eventually got results, as changes to the bill were announced May 6 by Norm Letnick,
Kelly Hodgins posted this popular ‘felfie’ image on Twitter.
weeks after he took over the agriculture portfolio from Pat Pimm (see related story on page 7). “Farmers were writing their MLAs, to (Premier) Christy Clark and the
Minister of Agriculture and not getting any response,” says Arzeena Hamir, the Comox Valley-based farmer who started the #farmers4ALR felfie trend. “Social media is a really democratic way to get your voice out there – everyone has access – and it’s a nice way of showing what farmers across B.C. are doing.”
The felfie protest captured the imagination of the public and mainstream media.
“There is a whole history of farmers protesting. The public has a soft spot for farmers. When you get a farmer angry, people notice,” said Hamir. “I think the opposition against the bill is quite widespread. Not only do we not want it, but no one asked us if we want it.”
Letnick said he was introducing amendments to Bill 24, “which take into account the written feedback of British Columbians and following input gained from meetings with leaders in B.C.’s agricultural sector. The comments expressed are as
British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2014 5
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