Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal candidate Norm Letnick is shooting back at B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver over what Letnick says was a “drive-by smear” campaign during a visit to the Central Okanagan earlier this week.
At a stop in the north Glenmore area of Kelowna Monday, Weaver slammed the Liberal government for its handling of agriculture, saying he feels the Liberals have let down farmers. He called a new, two-tier plan for the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve, that would allow some development on ALR land, just a way of letting oil and gas fracking take place on agricultural land in northern B.C.
Weaver made his comments at a small cidery in the heart of the Kelowna-Lake Country riding, a rural constituency Letnick has represented for the last eight years. He is seeking a third term as MLA and is currently B.C.’s agriculture minister.
In a response to Weaver’s criticisms, Letnick accused the B.C. Green Party leader of speaking with “no reference to the facts,” before heading back to Vancouver Island (where Weaver is running for re-election) to “shore up support for his flagging campaign back home.”
“Mr. Weaver should be forgiven for not understanding the issues in the Okanagan,” said Letnick. “Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you only talk to the media rather than the people you are supposed to be serving.”
But Letnick’s B.C. Green Party challenger in the riding, Alison Shaw, defended Weaver saying he did meet with people during his two days here, including representatives of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association and the co-owner of the cidery where he made his comments to the media.
She said her party has many candidates who are very familiar with agriculture issues and rural B.C. and she and the rest of her party are very concerned about what has happened to agriculture under the B.C. Liberals.
“(Andrew Weaver) came here and talked to people in a very interested way. (B.C. Liberal leader) Christy Clark, on the other hand, did photo ops. I think it was a very unfair remark by Mr. Letnick,” said Shaw.
In his response to Weaver, Letnick said B.C.’s agriculture sector has grown 18 per cent since 2011 and is responsible for providing almost 63,000 jobs. Since 2011 B.C. farm profits have increased 93 per cent, and is attracting more young people into farming. Last year, B.C. farm exports hit an all-time high at $3.8 billion, a 44 per cent increase since he became agriculture minister.
“We have set ambitious targets of getting an additional 91,000 hectares into agri-production, reaching $15 billion in sales by 2020,” said Letnick. “Locally we have seen the strongly funded tree fruit replant program and wine (available to purchase) in grocery stores, which has helped to increase wine sales overall and returns to grape growers.”
But Shaw said the ALR has been reduced by eight per cent under the Liberals and she is concerned not all viable agricultural land in the province is being used for food production.
Shaw said 70 per cent of B.C. food is currently imported, much of it from California, where drought and wildfires have an impact.
“Future food security needs to be addressed,” she said.
Letnick quoted Phil Patara, president of the Okanagan Sikh Temple, saying he believes farmers have been very happy with him as agriculture minister, and said long-time Kelowna resident Domenic Rampone, whose family has been farming here for more than 100 years, has praised a new farmers donation tax credit that helps food banks and school meal programs that he brought in and praising his for his work on food supply security.
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