If the NDP forms the next government, the issue of food sustainability and the needs of agricultural producers will take a much higher profile, says Lana Popham.
The NDP’s agriculture critic was on hand in Qualicum Beach on Saturday to give her views on what is needed to breath new life into the agricultural sector in the province.
Noting that while she has been the agriculture critic since she was elected nearly four years ago, the governing Liberals have gone through four agriculture ministers in that time — a lack of continuity she said served to exacerbate the low priority given to agricultural issues in B.C.
“I am in politics because of agriculture,” Popham said. “The relationships I have made with stakeholder groups — farmers, food security believers, restaurants, anyone connected with the food system — took four years. I have dealt with four agriculture ministers in four years. There’s no possible way to know the agiculture ministry and get had around this file without putting in the time. The current government does not have a priority on agriculture. Even if there is no money in the budget to support it, at least they could have kept the same person in for four years for consistency.”
Her plan to revitalize the sector, she said, comes in three parts.
“Step one is Grow B.C.,” she said. “That includes everything we need to do to support the farmer on the Agricultural Land Reserve. We protected it, and now it’s time to incent the farmer to grow on it. We need to make sure the land in the ALR is the land that’s supposed to be there. The Agricultural Land Commission needs to look at what land should and shouldn’t be in and make sure the boundaries are absolute so, they don’t use their whole budget to deal with applications to exclude land from the ALR.”
As well, she said, the government needs to look at meat regulations to make sure they work for all producers, not just the large-scale operators.
“The second part of the three-step plan is called Feed B.C.,” Popham said. “It looks at the money we spend in our institutions when we re buying food. It would require hospitals, educational institutions, ferries … anywhere we use provincial dollars to buy food that 30 per cent to be grown in B.C.”
Popham stressed the move would not amount to an agricultural subsidy, as the government would have been paying for the food anyway.
Finally, she said, the NDP would reinstate the popular Buy B.C. program, which she said was one of the most widely-recognized branding systems going before it was abolished by the current government.