Bill 52, The Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act is an important piece of legislation that moves to protect food security and restrict speculation on agricultural land by not allowing the construction of homes in the ALR over 5200 sq/ft.
In addition, this Bill reverts the ALR back to a single zone, thus treating all agricultural land the same and substantially restricts the dumping of fill and waste material from development sites on ALR land.
Overall, this is a good Bill and the BC Green Caucus is supporting it.
It’s my honour to rise and speak to Bill 52, the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act.
Certainly, there are some issues in this bill that I am glad to see are being dealt with by the appropriate level of government.
I’m certainly not as experienced at agriculture as the member for Delta South.
I can’t say that three generations of my family have been in agriculture, but I certainly can say that many, many countless generations of my family have been harvesting and developing food harvesting areas within the territories of the WSÁNEĆ for countless generations. So while it might not have been what we see today as agriculture, I would like to acknowledge that we have a long history of developing 100 percent of the food that was eaten and consumed and, in fact, traded in a commercial way right here in our territory.
I certainly think that this is something that we need to be working toward — ensuring that we are ensuring the food security.
ALC Act is provincial legislation
While I do agree that farming requires farmers, farming also requires farmland, so I think that it is important that we look after the jurisdiction that is ours, which is the Agricultural Land Commission Act and the agricultural land reserve. That is indeed a provincial piece of legislation, and it is indeed our responsibility to make sure that it is doing what it needs to do and doing what it should be doing, which is governing the agricultural land within the agricultural land reserve.
I have some experience from the perspective of a local councillor, as well, in the district of Central Saanich.
I was the former councillor there, and 70 percent of the land within our district was in the ALR, meaning 30 percent of the land paid most of the bills, which…. It was really an interesting municipality to be sitting around the council table on. Certainly, a lot of what happened in the agricultural land reserve impacted our community in deep ways.
I think that it’s important to acknowledge that — in response to the member from Delta South — while it is under the purview of district councils to make these changes one community by one, it is certainly within the purview of the provincial government to look after its own legislation. To update this bill would mean that it doesn’t require numbers and numbers and numbers of municipalities to all go through the highly intensive process that we went through to get a soil deposit and removal bylaw in our community.
Regulating fill on farmland
It took 13 months, because it sat on the minister of the former government’s desk while we tried to determine what kind of impact this was going to have on the development community in this particular area. That was the question that we were asked when we went to find out why it was that that bill wasn’t signed off. The government at the time was wondering what kind of impact it was going have on the holes that were being dug for large buildings, as the member pointed out.
By amending this bylaw and by fixing at the provincial level, then we don’t have the 13-month delays. Certainly, many chunks of asphalt were dumped on agricultural land day in and day out while we were waiting for the sign-off on that bill.
Another piece that I’d like to point out — and it might just be some language — but I’d like to acknowledge the women in agriculture. I know that we often use language here of “he” and “him” and “it’s his farm.” But I think that it’s important, because many of the incredible workers in agriculture operating farms, running farms in my riding, are women. I would like to just raise my hands to the women that are working in the agricultural land.
It’s interesting. We hear that the slogan continually raised now. It’s brand-new, fresh, like BC Fresh or something — the slogan “Opportunity for all.” I imagine that we’re going to continue to hear it, as a mantra, get repeated in this place over and over. “Opportunity. Opportunity for all.” The other slogan is “Winning takes work,” apparently. We haven’t heard that one too often.
Farming is hard work
But I’d like to say that it is the mantra that I’ve heard from the farmers in my riding — the work of agriculture. I think that it’s important that we are acknowledging and raising our hands to those who are doing the work.
Yesterday — was it yesterday? — or maybe the day before I had the opportunity to meet with farmers, as did the members from all parts of this House. I acknowledged the hands, because I come from a family that didn’t produce food. We were in horticulture. Whenever I talked about the dirt, my grandfather would shake his big mitts at me and say: “You know, Adam, I don’t work….” Can I even refer to myself as my own name?
I can? Okay.
He said: “Grandson, I don’t work in dirt. I work in soil.” My grandfather was a man that always reminded me that we come from the soil and that he worked in the soil. So I acknowledged, while I was sitting the table in the hotel next door, the hands, the mitts and the soil that was under the fingernails and the hands of the farmers. I do raise my hands, which are much softer and much less worthy, to the agricultural workers: the farmers, the ranchers, the orchardists, the people who produce food for us and for our children and for our grandchildren.
With that, I would just like to say that the B.C. Green caucus is very supportive of the three main aspects of this piece of legislation. We are certainly and, for quite a period of time going back before my time in this place, have been encouraging government to impose limits on the house sizes that can be built on agricultural land.
We’ve seen the agricultural, ALR prime farmland being turned from agricultural uses to rural estate uses. Certainly, the more urban you get, the more threat there is to that land. Even though it was in the guidelines, limiting house sizes to 5,400 square feet within this bill is very welcome from our caucus’s perspective. And as we’ve seen the impact of speculation on land, all land, all zones throughout British Columbia, farmland has certainly become a casualty of that, and so we are very much welcome to the limiting of house sizes on agricultural land.
I’d like to acknowledge the comment that was made by the member for Delta South with respect to home plates, because this is a piece of work that absolutely still needs to be done and that we need to continue to push. It’s not just the size of the house, but it is, as was mentioned, the siting of the house. If you put a 5,400-square-foot house in the middle of prime agricultural land, you’ve still limited the capacity of that land to produce in an uninterrupted way. I recognize that. It’s not just the 5,400-square-foot house; it’s the 100- or 200- or 300-metre driveway that goes up, and so much of that land is now interrupted and has asphalt on it or even gravel on it or concrete on it. So I certainly am very, very supportive of the government moving…. And as the minister stated, this is one of, maybe, multiple parts — us moving further down the road towards the siting of homes, the home plate.
Seeking flexibility within the homeplate
I think the other thing, too, which comes up…. I represent Gulf Island communities, and one of the things that comes up for me is that much of the farmland, agricultural land in the Gulf Island communities is operated now by multiple families that have kind of gone in together. They’ve purchased the land, and they’re working the land together because that’s the only way that they can afford it, frankly. They ask me the questions about multiple homes being built and can multiple homes be built on agricultural land. And, of course, we know that there are significant limitations, and for good reason. I respect the comments that were made that there could be, you know, two homes, maybe, built on a piece of farmland, but that would be the limit.
One of the questions that gets brought to me…. I’m not resolved on this issue, but it’s one issue that I think we can explore a little bit further and that perhaps all sides of this House can explore. If we set a home plate size and we set a square footage size, maybe we can allow for some flexibility from that owner within the home plate, within the square footage size. It’s just something that I put out there. If we have a limit of 5,400 square feet and we have a home plate within which you can build, then perhaps maybe multiple families — or you could have a couple of different dwellings there so that multiple families could…. There is some flexibility there.
I’ll just leave it at that. I’ve talked to a number of people on the Gulf Islands that this impacts, that they don’t have that flexibility. I did let them know that I would raise it, and I’d raise it with the minister, and we’d put it out there and see what happens with it.
I did mention, when it came to illegal fill, the frustration that we had in the district of Central Saanich, and I am glad that we’ve responded to the challenges that we had with development fill coming in from the urban centres into the rural lands and the agricultural lands. Certainly, it was a long and painful process for us to get to where we’re at. So I am very, very supportive of the action that the government is taking to remove this as an option, let’s say. And, again, I have some questions about enforcement. That was the big issue that we had, that, okay, it’s great to have this soil deposit and fill bylaw, but if we’re not resourcing the Agricultural Land Commission with enough money to actually enforce, then that is causing significant problems.
So I would just say that we absolutely support the move to regulate this more strictly. As well, I’d say that we could even go a step further and work with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and maybe have some coordination around tracking development fill and putting some recommendations in place where these two ministries and these two bills can interact to say: “Look, if you are the Metro or you are the CRD or you have an urbanized part of your district, then you should, if you’re getting a building permit, be tracking that hole that is being dug and the fill that’s coming from it.”
One zone to two zones to one zone again
Finally, I would say that it is welcome — and it was part of the platform of the B.C. Green caucus — to move back from two zones to a single zone. I’d just say, in this context, the change to two zones did threaten agricultural land. It opened it up. It said that some lands were more capable, while others lands were not.
We do know that lands outside of the more mild climates of southwestern British Columbia are also very valuable for their agricultural production. Just because there’s snow on them for parts of the year doesn’t mean that we should leave those vulnerable or that they should have a different set of values. It’s still about food production. It’s still about making sure that we can provide the food like we have in this province, that we can eat food that’s grown here
On those notes, I would just like to congratulate the minister. We share Saanich. She’s Saanich South; I’m Saanich North. A lot of agricultural land within our two jurisdictions. I know, as the former critic on this file and a farmer, that this has been something that has been long awaited from the minister and the member for Saanich South. I’d like to congratulate the minister on the good work that’s been done. You have the support. We will be going into some details on this bill as we go through committee stage, but congratulations.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak at second reading.