BC government delays report while agricultural commission suffers: NDP critic  

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By Andrew MacLeod June 2, 2011 11:20 am 

The New Democratic Party's agriculture critic Lana Popham is questioning the government's delay releasing a report on the needs of the Agricultural Land Commission, an agency she says lacks the budget to do its job properly.
Agriculture Minister Don McRae says the "pretty comprehensive" report has been on his desk since he became minister and he hopes it can get cabinet approval and be released soon.
"I think it lays out exactly what they need to function," said Popham. "Right now they don't have enough money to fulfill their mandate and their mandate was to protect agricultural land and promote agriculture. It's at a point where they have no budget to do any of those things. It's a skeleton commission."
ALC Chair Richard Bullock submitted the report to the government last fall, but it just keeps getting shuffled around on the minister's desk, she said.
Meanwhile, farm land in the province is threatened by things like the dumping of fill from construction sites, she said. There are rules against it, but the ALC lacks the staff to enforce them, she said. "They can't keep on top of it, there's no budget and they're doing the best they can."
Burying farmland in fill can be lucrative, she said, citing the example of a Saanich farm that recently took 10,000 truck loads of fill at $70 each from the Uptown mall project. "It begins to be more profitable," she said. "It destroys the farmland."
McRae said he's trying to get the report in front of cabinet and hopes it can be released within the next two weeks.
"It's something that's really important to me, obviously," he said. "We want to make sure we go down a path that's going to be acceptable to government, and I think it's one of those areas we don't want to make any mistakes on."
Premier Christy Clark made McRae the minister on March 11. "It was there when I got to the ministry, so it's definitely been there for awhile," said McRae.
"Sometimes the wheels of government don't move as fast as we all would like, but at the same time the last thing I want to do is bring out something premature and find it's not going to meet the needs of farmers and British Columbians," he said.
Popham has made a request under freedom of information legislation for the report and other communications between the ALC and the ministry. "It would have been much easier if he would have released it months ago and we could have talked about what were the needs before we're going into another farming season," she said.
She's 'ticked' the agricultural sector doesn't have a stronger champion at the cabinet table, she said.
Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here
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