Gerry Zimmermann, vice-chairman of the Agricultural Land Commission and head of the ALC’s Okanagan panel. (Photo - BMID)

Government proposes dropping regional ALC panels

Head of Okanagan panel says move would “not be a bad thing”

Proposed changes to the province’s Agricultural Land Commission are being welcomed by the head of the ALC’s Okanagan panel.

Commission vice-chairman, Kelowna’s Gerry Zimmermann, said Friday the government’s plan to eliminate the six regional panels—one of which he heads—would be a good move.

“I don’t see it as a bad thing at all,” said Zimmermann.

Established by the former Liberal government 4 1/2 years ago, the panels were an attempt to have regional agricultural land decisions made by people familiar with local conditions.

Zimmermann said while he feels the regional panels have worked well in dealing with applications concerning agricultural land use across B.C., there were concerns about overall consistency, from a provincial perspective, when it came to panel decisions.

He said a return to a single commission, with regional representation on it, should address that.

READ MORE: Legislation to protect B.C. farmland comes into effect

The government has proposed legislation that would:

• Replace the current ALC governance model of six panel regions and an executive committee with one commission maintaining regional representation by requiring membership from all six administrative regions

• Provide the chairwoman of the ALC with more flexibility to organize commission members into a decision-making panel on applications when warranted, by topic, technical expertise or by an administrative region

• Add new decision-making criteria to prioritize the protection and enhancement of the size, integrity and continuity of the land base that the ALC must consider when exercising any power or performing a duty under the ALC Act

• Add more compliance and enforcement capacity and tools, including a new offence for landowners who do not produce records to the ALC when ordered

• Require exclusion applications to be submitted to the ALC only by local governments, First Nations governments or the province, to encourage those type of applications to be done as “part of thoughtful land-use planning process”

Shortly after the NDP came to power, it eliminated the two-tier system the former Liberal government put in place that allowed some land in the Agricultural Land Reserve in certain parts of the province —the North, the Kootenays and the Central Interior—to be excluded for commercial purposes, another move Zimmermann agreed with.

READ MORE: Agriculture minister admits public pressure prompted changes to ALR plan

Zimmermann, the well-known retired Kelowna fire chief and a former city councillor, was originally appointed to the ALC by the Liberals 4 1/2 years ago and was reappointed by the NDP when it came to power in 2017.

He said applications to take land out of the ALC are only a small part of what the ALC deals with. Subdivision and non-farm use applications make up the bulk of the commission’s work.

As for making it mandatory exclusion applications be made by local governments in future, Zimmermann noted local governments are now asked for input when applications are made, but do not always get it.

He said with the new rule, the commission will always know where a local government stands on an application.

The government’s proposed changes to the ALC have yet to be passed into law.

The Agricultural Land Reserve includes 46,159 square kilometres of B.C., equivalent to five per cent of the total land base.

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