Happy to drop ‘critic’ label

Popham pledges to be a strong advocate for farming as B.C.’s latest agriculture minister.

By Judie Steeves I

t’s a dream come true for Southern Vancouver Island farmer and NDP MLA Lana Popham, appointed in

July as the province’s 14th agriculture minister in the past 24 years, to replace Liberal Norm Letnick, who served twice in the post, most recently for three years. “I’m very grateful to be in this position. I’ve always been a cheerleader for agriculture, and I can promise growers I will be a strong advocate for them,” she commented in an exclusive interview just weeks after her appointment. Popham was agriculture critic for eight

years prior to the appointment and admitted she was pretty pleased to be able to drop the ‘critic’ label. She says that before becoming an

MLA, she had a vineyard and a vegetable business as well as managing some small-scale vineyards on the Island, and in the process, she learned what some of the many barriers are for farmers. In fact, that realization is what spurred

her to run for office. “I entered politics because of my passion for agriculture. I helped develop the NDP agriculture platform,” she explained. One plank in that is the Grow B.C.

part of the mandate, which involves revitalizing the Agricultural Land Reserve and getting young people onto farmland, she said, noting farmers’ average age is in the 50s today. Popham noted that she’s travelled around the province talking to farmers during the past eight years, and to many young people interested in getting into farming. “I want to help figure that out.” There’s also a need for more agricultural extension and field services, so her government will be looking at that, Popham said. Domestic supply and demand needs to be addressed, and although she admitted supporting work done by the previous government on international markets, it was at the expense of the domestic markets. Feed B.C. is the second plank, and

could be more room to move after that one. Asked about grower issues such as

bird predation and disgruntled neighbours, she said as a grape grower she is aware of the situation. “The problem is the complaints from non-farmers,” she noted. There’s been encroachment on agriculture by subdivisions and in future there needs to be clearer boundaries between residential development and the ALR. She was confident the real estate industry was on board to help educate buyers about living next to farmland. As well, Popham expects the ministry

Lana Popham has the agriculture portfolio with the recently-elected NDP government.

refers to a procurement policy that would see government institutions such as hospitals required to move toward purchasing at least 30 per cent B.C.- grown products. Popham said she envisions during

local fruit seasons that B.C. hospitals will be serving B.C. fruit instead of fruit cups imported from other countries. “We should be supporting local farmers there. In the Lower Mainland alone, $50 million a year is spent on hospital meals.” Ontario and other jurisdictions are already doing it, she said. Asked about the additional costs there

might be in the health ministry for that, she responded that there would be a corresponding increase in economic benefits, which makes it worthwhile overall. Buy B.C. is the third plank in the platform, which is a return to that promotional program for B.C. agriculture, to replace the “piecemeal” Buy Local program the Liberals brought in.

“It’s very limited.” Caucus is very supportive of agriculture and there are two other farmers with her around the cabinet table in Victoria, Popham said. Asked about an increase in the agriculture ministry budget, she warned the first budget of the new government will be a status quo budget, but there

will help to educate those people moving into agricultural areas that there are pluses and minuses about living adjacent to farms. She agreed that it’s very frustrating for farmers to lose a year’s effort to grow a crop when Canada geese or other birds annihilate it in a single night. “I’m aware of the damage birds can


Popham said she is also aware of problems this year in both Abbotsford and Kelowna surrounding worker accommodation and said she would be working with the B.C. Agriculture Council to resolve worker housing issues. Perhaps a change in regulations to allow temporary worker housing on the ALR, she wondered. “Labour is always an issue and housing is part of that.” On the other hand, she noted, “We

don’t want substandard housing.” As far as the Agricultural Land Commission is concerned, she supports moving back to a single zone in the province instead of dividing it up. She also believes there should be a

single panel for the ALC instead of the six regional panels that currently operate around the province because it would result in less opportunity for political interference in decisions. “Our mandate is to encourage farming

and protect farmland, so we’re looking at policies that support farmers. They need a stable market to sell into. “Right now, the ALR is seen by some

as a land bank for development. We need to turn that around,” she said decisively. “People love to say farmers do it for

the lifestyle but the bottom line is important.”

British Columbia Berry Grower • Fall-Winter 2017 9

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