Newly appointed Agriculture Minister, Norm Letnick, has introduced changes to the controversial Bill 24.
The Bill, first introduced earlier this year, proposed changes to the Agricultural Land Commission.
Opponents have said Bill 24 will erode farmland protection and return the province to the pre-1972 era before establishment of the Agricultural Land Commission and the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Letnick, who also serves as MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country, said he made amendments to the Bill after consultation with the BC Agricultural Council, Agricultural Land Commission and reviewing hundreds of letters received by the general public.
"The most substantive issue I heard from many letters I received was a concern that the province needs to ensure the security and availability of food in BC, not only for today but for the future," said Letnick.
"Bill 24 is intended to help respond to that concern by providing the Agricultural Land Commission with the ability to enable farmers to increase their family income and their ability to continue farming."
Letnick said the amendments include:
- Ability of the chair or regional panel to raise significant applications to the executive committee of the commission.
- Outline in priority order the criteria the commission must consider in all land use decisions in zone 2 (north, interior, Kootenays). The list of considerations will give priority to the purposes to the commission as set out in the Act. Namely, the primary principle of preserving agricultural land, encouraging farming and enabling farm use on agricultural land. All other factors follow in descending order of priority.
Letnick said the changes have been made to ensure ALC's top priority is to preserve farmland and ensures panels make decisions in the best interests of agriculture.
He went on to say changes would not include elimination of the two zone approach that did not sit well with some in the province.
"As we said from the outset, BC is a large and diverse province with different agricultural practices, different populations and development pressures. It's a province with different social and cultural realities," said Letnick.
"A one size fits all approach to regulating the use of farmland does not fit this reality. The development and population pressure in Zone 1 is significantly greater than in Zone 2 and that's why it makes sense to keep Zone 1 as status quo."
He reiterated the province's objective has always been to support agriculture and the people who work in it.
"Even with the changes to the legislation, the Agricultural Land Commission continues to decide how land is to be best used independent of anyone else including me."