Farmer back at the helm of ALC

New chair seems to be picking up where orchardist Richard Bullock was dumped. By Judie Steeves


here are echoes of former Agricultural Land Commission chairman Richard Bullock’s

comments of eight years ago in the voice of newly-appointed chair Jennifer Dyson as she talks about the need for education, communication, planning and return of final decisions to the commission itself from the six little commissions (panels) working around the province.

Bullock is a Kelowna orchardist who chaired the ALC from 2010 until his controversial removal from that post in 2015 with six months left in his term. He was replaced by a former mayor of Saanich, Frank Leonard, a tire store manager.

Dyson’s appointment by agriculture minister Lana Popham is a return of the commission to a farmer. She has been a commissioner on the ALC since 2008 until last year when the minister asked that she chair a nine-member advisory committee appointed to review the Agricultural Land Reserve, which has just wrapped up its consultation period and is expected to make

recommendations to government by the end of this summer.

With her family, Dyson also runs an Alberni Valley water buffalo dairy called Coleman Meadows Farm, which sells milk to be made into such products as cheese and yogurt.

She admits Bullock mentored her with his passion for and understanding of agriculture.

Chairing the ALR review charged with revitalizing the ALC allowed her to “stand back to look at what was and what could be.” In the process, she says they looked at Bullock’s 2010 report on the ALC, but says “almost none of it was acted upon.”

Still, today, people live on the ALR but are not farmers. It’s an issue she says all agricultural organizations struggle with. “What is a bona fide farmer? We’re trying to identify that through farm

areas as water licences. The voice of farmers is diminishing with fewer people living in rural areas and more in cities. Farmers are busy farming and being involved with their local communities, but there is a need for their voices to be heard.

It’s also important to get young people

working on the land, she adds.

Although Dyson says local government is doing a lot to support agriculture, she is concerned about large homes being built on large acreages. “We need clear and concise rules.” The ALC is more accessible to everyone now with its online presence and

Jennifer Dyson and her family operate a water buffalo dairy on Vancouver Island.

assessments,” she says.

“It takes just two seconds after you step on the land to see what is happening there, so in-person inspections are important.”

It’s vital that agricultural land is there for future generations and that it not be a resource that’s just whittled away, Dyson explains.

On the decision several years ago to divide the province into two regions within the ALR, Dyson says that did not help agriculture. As well, she says 90 per cent of respondents who commented as part of the 2018 review said the province should go back to just one zone in the ALR.

However, she said it’s up to the provincial government to give direction to the commission following receipt of recommendations from the committee in the coming months.

“There’s not a lot I can do now, so it likely will be fall before there are any changes.”

That said, she believes the commission can make it easier for farmers on such issues as Crown land and the bureaucracy involved in such

transparency but she hopes to make the commission more responsive.

The chair’s powers over decisions made by the six panels around the province were removed in 2014, and Dyson admits she would love to see a return to a central decision-making model where panels’ decisions are not final until they go back to the main commission body.

“Over the years there’s been a lot of tinkering (with the ALR legislation), and it all comes at a cost. Often those decisions were made without understanding the far-reaching ramifications,” she contends. “It’s a huge challenge: to keep an eye on the big picture.”

Another concern Dyson has is what happens adjacent to ALR land. Those buying real estate with ALR land as a neighbour should be made aware before their purchase that there is a farm next door.

She is also concerned that the ALC continues to be too application-driven. The ALC review committee heard from more than 2,300 people, and will now finish up under the chairmanship of committee member Vicki Huntington, and deliver a series of recommendations to revitalize the ALR.

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2018 9

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