Budget Estimates: Agriculture Minister excuses oil and gas running roughshod over ALR

Apr 5, 2024 | 42-5, Blog, Estimates, Governance, Legislature, Video | 1 comment

For the past fifty years the BC NDP could be counted on to be the most vocal advocates of agriculture, specifically protection of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) and the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

However, in my recent exchange with Hon. Pam Alexis (Minister of Agriculture) it has become clear the BC NDP have abandoned that space and since forming government they have substantially weakened the protection of agricultural land.

It is safe to say, the BC NDP can no longer be counted on to protect the ALR!

My suspicions have been growing over the past few years, as complaints to my office about lacking enforcement capacity highlighted the dismal and stagnating budget for the Ministry year after year.

Those suspicions were confirmed when I visited the Fort St. John region last summer. I met with agricultural producers and saw how the oil and gas industry has been given free rein on ALR land. It was a dystopian experience, and I was shocked to see how deeply the BC NDP government had undermined their once celebrated initiative.

It has been a few years in the making. After criticizing the BC Liberal government for starting the Site C dam, Premier John Horgan reversed his opposition, and went ahead with the project. Then he reversed the BC NDP’s opposition to the nascent liquefied natural gas (LNG) and fracking industries when he approved LNG Canada. From buying a Stake in the Peace, to sacrificing it, Horgan’s complete reversal has had a profound effect on agriculture.

When Premier David Eby moved former agriculture minister Lana Popham, his only vocal champion of agriculture, it was further evidence that the BC NDP had abandoned their commitment to the industry and had become the government they once roundly criticized for 16 years. Now the oil and gas industry have unfettered access to fracture and pollute some of our province’s highest quality food producing land.

When BC Hydro begins filling the dam reservoir they will drown thousands of acres of farmland. Fracking operations pre-empt agricultural production, their pipelines criss-cross the land, massive irrigation ponds store water—not for agriculture, but for fracking. The water is hijacked from drought-stricken creeks and streams. Toxic frack waste storage and gas processing plants grow out of once productive farmland. Meanwhile, the processing plants flare the equivalent of the annual emissions of a small town whenever they need to relieve the pressure.

My dialogue with Minister Alexis made it clear how this happened. From once proud boosters of the ALC, the BC NDP policy shifted from the full-throated protection of agricultural land to the the need to find a balance. Minister Alexis said, “land use decisions involve trade-offs.” Indicating a need to placate “other competing interests at times.” That would have never been accepted by the BC NDP I knew a decade ago.

I asked Minister Alexis about the delegation agreement between the ALC and the BC Energy Regulator (BCER). She described it as the tool that allows the BCER to work “efficiently and effectively in its efforts to regulate the oil and gas industry… and to ensure BC’s agricultural values are protected.” It is an outrageous agreement, matched only by the fact the Minister defended it.

The energy regulator has no interest in agriculture. Its purpose is to regulate and facilitate the production of energy. That is why we have two organizations, the BCER is solely interested in energy, and the ALC solely in agriculture. Why didn’t the provincial government give priority to agriculture? All it takes is a few minutes on the land in the Northeast to witness what the priorities are.

Minister Alexis described an Orwellian process currently being undertaken by the BCER and ALC to establish “baseline information to better understand the effectiveness of the mitigation measures.”

I have been known to spin a politically charged rhetorical phrase, however, I do not possess the hyperbole in my vocabulary is to describe how troubled I am by this situation.

We are not fighting about the protection of agricultural land in British Columbia anymore because the BC NDP has adopted the policy of their old foes—the Social Credit turn BC Liberals. The once heated outrage of the public when our food producing land has threatened has all but gone.

If this issue matters to you write me a letter. Send it to Adam.Olsen.MLA@leg.bc.ca and copy Minister Pam Alexis at AF.Minister@gov.bc.ca and Premier David Eby at premier@gov.bc.ca.


A. Olsen:

Okay. Thank you.

Can the minister explain her approach to ensuring the balance between the purpose of the agricultural land reserve and the removal of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, particularly as it relates to the rising food insecurity and concerns around the impacts of even temporary removals on agricultural production?

[5:15 p.m.]

Hon. P. Alexis:

This question was canvassed earlier. And in a nutshell, land use decisions involve trade-offs. As Minister of Agriculture, I always advocate to protect farmland. But there are trade-offs and other competing interests at times, which have to be part of the decision.

A. Olsen:
Can the minister describe the relationship the ALC has with the B.C. Energy Regulator?

Hon. P. Alexis:

There is a delegation agreement between the B.C. Energy Regulator and the Agricultural Land Commission which is designed to allow the B.C. Energy Regulator to work efficiently and effectively in its efforts to regulate the oil and gas industry, particularly in the northeast, and to ensure that B.C.’s agricultural values are protected.

A. Olsen:

Is it the responsibility of the B.C. Energy Regulator to be considerate of the agricultural values? Or is it the role of the B.C. Energy Regulator to be considerate of the needs of the energy regulating in the province?

Hon. P. Alexis:

I believe that the decisions being made under the agreement attempt to strike that balance between the needs of the oil and gas sector while preserving the integrity of the ALR.

I can also tell the member that the ALC and the B.C. Energy Regulator are currently working together to establish baseline information about the effectiveness of mitigation measures.

A. Olsen:

So you know, I’d say that I…. Well, I’ll ask the question.

Has the minister been up to the northeast to see for herself the impact of the decisions that the B.C. Energy Regulator is making with respect to agricultural land, water storage facilities on agricultural land, the development of gas production facilities, fracking sites and the storage of used frack water on agricultural land? Has the minister been up north to witness that for herself?

[5:20 p.m.]

Hon. P. Alexis:

Yes, I did visit the northeast. I visited and talked to a number of farmers, and really, we spoke about their everyday challenges. That includes things like the cost of production, drought, water storage — a multitude of issues. So yes, I’ve been up.

A. Olsen:

Okay, great. Then I think that perhaps, then, the minister and I have different perspectives on the balance that the minister asked about. What I saw was the significant reduction in the production of the land where the pipelines run, for example. They criss-cross those lands all over the place. We see pipes, temporary pipes hijacking water and putting it on, storing it on, agricultural land for it to be used. We hear stories about gas-processing facilities that have been built without permit on agricultural land.

Has the minister done a review to ensure that the balance actually is in favour of agricultural production, not the production of gas? Since the delegation agreement has been made, has there been a review to ensure that this ministry, and this minister, is actually, indeed, looking out for the interests of agriculture, which is the job, and not just allowing oil and gas to run roughshod over that land?

[5:25 p.m.]

Hon. P. Alexis:

As I said before, the ALC and the B.C. energy regulators are currently working together to establish baseline information about the effectiveness of mitigation measures. The results of this work will give us a better picture of how that balance is going.

A. Olsen:

This delegation agreement has been in place for several years. It’s frankly surprising that this isn’t something that’s built into the agreement on an ongoing basis, rather than a process that the minister is describing as something that is in the process of being developed. I feel that it is a dereliction of the duty of the Agriculture Ministry to allow another industry to run roughshod over it.

Indeed, this was the government that created the Agricultural Land Commission back in 1972 and celebrated it every year since then, and yet created a delegation agreement that allows another industry to literally destroy agricultural land without the basic measures in place to be able to understand what the impact of that is and to put in place the appropriate mitigation measures.

Anywhere else in this province, if you were to do it — unless you’re building a Red Bull facility in the Lower Mainland — would require you to at least put the same amount of land back into the Agricultural Land Reserve that you’re pulling out in order to use it for a different purpose other than agriculture. Anybody who pretends that what they see up there is the level of production and the quality of the land and the quality of the air in those food-producing lands…. It’s a hallucination to believe that there’s not a massive impact on the agricultural capacity of that land.

1 Comment

  1. Jon Healey

    The Oil and gas companies seem to be running roughshod across the agricultural land reserves that are a critical resource.
    Adam Olsen reports that what he saw was the significant reduction in the production of the land where the pipelines run, for example. They criss-cross those lands all over the place. We see pipes, temporary pipes hijacking water and storing it on agricultural land to be used by the oil industry”. We hear stories about gas-processing facilities that have been built without permit on agricultural land”. The NDP government is apparently wilfully ignoring the importance of maintaining the thriving agriculture activity that is so important to our future.
    Perhaps the leadership does not understand the importance of the agricultural resource.
    An election will soon be on us again and unless there is a significant change of course we will remember the sell out by this government.
    Be assured that we will remember this.


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