Despite rumours to the contrary, a spokesman for the minister responsible for the government’s core review, Bill Bennett, says the government is committed to protecting high quality agricultural land.
“That will never change,” wrote the unidentified spokesman, when asked why the Agricultural Land Commission was part of the core review process, currently underway within the provincial government.
“The over-arching goal of the core review process is to ensure the best possible use of government resources and respect for the interests of taxpayers.”
“While this review includes organizations like the ALC, it is important to understand that no decisions have been made and we are open to hearing from citizens,” he said.
Bennett and the Minister of Agriculture, Pat Pimm, are happy to receive comment on the ALC, he added.
ALC chairman Richard Bullock, a Kelowna orchardist, completed a review of the ALC when he took over as chairman in 2010.
He said he has had little discussion with anyone about the current review that’s underway, particularly not about the specifics of it.
While many of his recommendations stemming from his review of the controversial, 40-year-old Agricultural Land Reserve have been or are being implemented, they are not yet complete, he said.
However in the new year, it will begin to roll out its move to electronic applications to the commission, which is expected to reduce the workload on staff caused by a backlog of applications, many for removal of land from the ALR.
Despite a recent change banning re-applications within a short time frame, Bullock said that didn’t seem to reduce the sheer volume of applications.
He feels it might be necessary to increase the cost of applying.
Staff have re-done ALR mapping and worked on digitizing the ALC files so everything is available to the public, while conducting their regular work, he said. “They’ve done an amazing job,” he commented.
A modernizing of the process is long overdue, he added.
Once applicants must complete their applications online, and ensure all their paperwork is complete before filing them, the onus will be on applicants to do the legwork, instead of expecting staff to help them, said Bullock.
“We’re changing how we do business; we’re working with civic governments and the agriculture community to make the ALR work,” he said.