Farmers on Vancouver Island and around the province are concerned about recent changes to provincial legislation that could negatively impact the future of their farms.
Close to 60 farmers and politicians gathered at Rusted Rake Farm in Nanoose Bay on June 17 for the first public District A Farmers’ Institute meeting. District A includes Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands, Sunshine Coast and Powell River.
“The purpose of this meeting is to give our regional input to growing concerns throughout the province regarding various issues stemming from the recent passing of Bills 52 and 15 and some other longstanding situations related to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and Agricultural Land Commission (ALC),” said District A Farmers’ Institute president Janet Thony.
The provincial government introduced Bill 52 on Nov. 5, 2018 and the changes officially took effect on Feb. 22, 2019. According to the government, the legislation changes will encourage farming on ALR land and end the proliferation of large mansions and lifestyle estates in the ALR, which inflate land prices and place agricultural land out of the reach of current and new farmers and ranchers.
An amendment also limits the number of homes on agricultural land to one, unless the ALC grants an exemption.
The issue of farmers facing restrictions to building second dwellings on their farms was a recurring issue brought up among individuals at the June 17 meeting.
Another significant concern brought up was that in Bill 15 —The Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act 2019 —farmers appear to be excluded from the definition as independent “persons” qualified to apply for exclusion. The bill states private property owners no longer have the right to petition the ALC for removal of land. Only a local government or First Nations government will be able to apply for changes.
According to the B.C. government, the new legislation has been introduced to strengthen the independence of the ALC so it can better fulfill its mandate of preserving the ALR.
Raquel Kolof, of the Sunshine Coast Farmers’ Institute, took two ferries from Gibsons to be at the meeting. Kolof is a pig farmer and said she’s tired of being told she’s “less of a farmer” because she wants a second dwelling on her farm.
“I am no less of a farmer because I need a second dwelling in order to be able to afford to farm. My feed bill is astronomical. I need that stable rental income in order to be able to afford to farm. ” Kolof said. “If you want to say farmland is for farming, great, then follow up with that. No more industrial cannabis production on farmland, no more big winery tasting rooms. Treat us all the same, it’s discrimination.”
“I’m frustrated for the farmers to have the additional red tape, to not have the ability to have those individual rights and choice,” said Michelle Stilwell, MLA for Parksville-Qualicum. “[The government] insisting farmers have to make an application to the ALC to prove they’re not a speculator so they can build a house for their family, adding that additional cost, adding that additional red tape is not fair to farmers.”
Kim Burden, executive director with the Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce, said not allowing additional housing on farmland will only add to the region’s housing shortage.
“We can’t find places for our workers to live now, our employers can’t find employees because they can’t live here, so taking further housing away is having a ripple effect on the whole economy,” Burden said.
Ian Paton, MLA for Delta South and co-critic for agriculture, added that next generation farmers deserve to be able to live on their family farms and the new legislation will force farm workers to have to commute.
“On my farm alone, I live in my grandpa’s house which is pretty tiny, about 1,500 square feet and my mom, who is 92, lives in the big old farm house,” Paton said. “If one of our houses burns down… and this has been in my family since 1942, they’re going to say, ‘sorry you can’t rebuild that house because you’re only allowed one house on that farm.’ This is crazy.”
Clarke Gourlay, Regional District of Nanaimo director for Area G (French Creek, Dashwood, Englishman River) and co-founder and general manager of Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and Morningstar Farm, said the greatest issue for farming isn’t housing, it’s cost of land.
“I think what we’re missing is the Agricultural Land Reserve is not the residential land reserve, it is not a reserve for housing, for cheap housing, for family group housing, it’s a reserve for farming, for agriculture,” Gourlay said. “My family and I run a fairly effective, commercially viable farm in French Creek. We can’t afford to expand, not because we’ve run out of houses, but because we can’t afford the land.”
Gourlay added that farmland is not the place to address housing shortages, it’s a place to farm.
District A Farmer’s Institute, the BC Chamber of Commerce and the Union of BC Municipalities have all sent formal letters to the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Forests, Lands Natural Resources and Rural Development with their concerns about the new legislation.