I want to give you an update on a potential agreement between the Agricultural Land Committee (ALC) and the Peace River Regional District (PRRD), which could allow land decisions to be made closer to home by the elected members of the PRRD.
I have had many visits to my office from rural residents who own land and cannot get this land removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). There is, understandably, frustration around this issue, especially since the Oil and Gas Commission has a delegation agreement with the ALC and so is able to deal with land issues more quickly, with local input in the decision. I think this is a great model, and this has inspired me to pursue this type of agreement for our local politicians as well.
Following up on this, I spoke with Minister McRae, who was Minister of Agriculture at the time. We agreed that if we could get the support of local residents, he would support the possibility of a delegation agreement for the Peace River area. I spoke with the Chair of the ALC and obtained his commitment for this proposal as well, so I came home and set to work on this. I wanted to see if I could get agreement from the different groups in the area on a series of recommendations, upon which we could base a Delegation Agreement between the ALC and the PRRD.
On March 2, 2012, Minister Blair Lekstrom and I met with many different groups and representatives to see if there was a possibility of moving forward in a united way. This included:
-North Peace Grain growers
-South Peace Grain growers
-North Peace Cattlemen
-South Peace Cattlemen
-Peace River Forage Association
-Peace River Bison Association
-Peace Country stock Association
-Citizens for ALR Reform
-Local area landowner with no affiliation
-PRRD land representative
We followed an inclusive process to develop a framework for this meeting. I contacted each of these groups and asked them for a list of recommendations on how the ALC and ALR could be improved to help our local area farmers and residents. When they sent me their responses, I used them to develop a list of 15 recommendations to form the basis of an agenda for discussion. After a lengthy meeting, the group came up with eight recommendations to forward to the PRRD that could potentially form the basis of a delegation agreement.
I wrote a letter based on these recommendations, signed by Blair Lekstrom and I, which made it onto the PRRD agenda in May of 2012. The board passed a motion to contact the ALC and obtain more information on what a delegation agreement would look like, and the ALC agreed to meet with the PRRD to discuss this on October 10, 2012.
Richard Bullock, Chair of the ALC, along with his area ALC representative and staff, came to Dawson Creek for this meeting. Mr. Bullock gave a brief overview and then turned the meeting over to his staff to give the PRRD members an idea of the process that the ALC goes through when it deals with applications from people wishing to remove land from the ALR.
The outcome of the meeting was that yes, a delegation agreement was a possibility; however, the PRRD would also be bound by the same legislation that the ALC is governed by, and the tenets of section 6 of the ALC act would have to be adhered to. This section states the purpose of the Commission: first, to reserve agricultural land; second, to encourage farming on agricultural land in collaboration with other Communities of interest; and third, to encourage local government and its agents to enable and accommodate farm use of agricultural land in their plans, bylaws and policies.
It would appear that the second objective allows for some latitude in creating a delegation agreement. Judging by precedent, this is indeed the case, as the Oil and Gas Commission has the power to allow industry to have land removed from the ALR because they are a community of interest within agricultural lands. It would make sense, then, that an agreement between the ALC and the PRRD, which also form a community of interests in these lands, would also have those powers. Mr. Underhill, CEO of the ALC, told Karen Goodings, chair of the PRRD, that the PRRD’s Official Community Plan could form the basis of a delegation agreement. The Delegation Agreement would be subject to an annual audit by the Auditor General and there could be other rules put in place as well.
This was a good informational meeting and the ALC answered all the questions that board members had. The meeting ended with the ALC suggesting that, while they did not recommend pursuing a delegation agreement, they were willing to enter into discussions about creating one if that was the PRRD’s wish.
On November 8, 2012, the PRRD had a meeting of the whole of the board and discussed the idea of the delegation agreement. However, since there cannot be any recommendations made at a meeting of the whole, it is still up to the PRRD to make the final decision on whether or not to enter into discussions around a delegation agreement with the ALC.
I believe that the PRRD should pursue discussions with the ALC to enter into a delegation agreement because I strongly believe that elected politicians know how to make land decisions. We have staff who frequently make recommendations on land decisions, and it only makes sense that the decisions for our region should be made here, by people that know the area, rather than by people appointed to the ALC. The ball is squarely in the PRRD’s court at this point, and I believe they can negotiate an agreement that will work well for both the board and the ALC.