B.C.’s new NDP agriculture minister came to her Liberal predecessor’s riding Thursday and laid out a vision for agriculture she says is very different from the one held by the former government.
Lana Popham, who served as her party’s agriculture critic for eight years while the NDP was in Opposition, said her vision for agriculture is based on her party’s three-point platform, presented in the provincial election earlier this year.
Unlike her predecessor, Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, now one of two Liberal agriculture critics, Popham said while committed to growing the industry across the province the bottom line numbers are not as important to her as they were to Letnick.
“When I talk about agriculture and food production it’s about people and food,” she said. “Those (bottom line) numbers are great but, on the ground, they don’t mean a lot to people.”
The numbers, often quoted by Letnick, include the agriculture sector in B.C. growing to be a $14 billion and profits for farmers growing to $3.6 billion.
Last week, Letnick said he plans to keep an eye on the “bottom-line” numbers and monitor the growth and that’s what he will judge the NDP’s performance on when it comes to its management of the agriculture file.
Popham protection of agricultural land in B.C. must be a priority and her government is considering a return to a single tier Agricultural Land Reserve and an end of regional panels to decide if land should be excluded from the reserve.
While she said discussions with stakeholders and the public about the controversial change brought in by the Liberals under Letnick’s watch have yet to take place, she is personally opposed to the two-tier system.
“I believe the Agricultural Land Reserve should be one zone and instead of regional panels, there should just be one provincial panel,” said Popham.
She added there should also be a boundary review to look at if there is land in the reserve that could be released for development in future.
But the new minister said the mandate for the ALR is the protection of agricultural land and that should be the main focus.
“It’s not a land bank for development,” she said. “It is land set aside for growing food.”
In addition to a different view of the ALR than the Liberals, the NDP also wants to bring back the Buy B.C. program, which Popham described as popular in the 1990s. It encouraged British Columbians to buy provincially grown produce.
Popham said unlike the Liberals, her party wants a greater focus on the domestic market for B.C.-produced food and wines. She said Liberals focus was more on international markets, something she supports but not exclusively.
The third part of the NDP’s agriculture strategy is called Feed B.C. and will focus on supplying more B.C.-produced food to B.C. hospitals and other areas where the provincial government supplies food.
Popham said a goal is to have 30 per cent of all the food supplied to B.C. hospitals produced in this province.