Thursday, July 21, 2016

Saanich News: A commitment to agriculture

OPINION/MLA Report: by Lana Popham
Reprinted from the Saanich News, July 20 2016

If you want to prepare a delicious meal you are well advised to consult a cookbook. I was reminded of this common sense recently when reviewing plans put out by the Ministry of Agriculture.

I’ve watched with great frustration over the past eight years as the Ministry of Agriculture has become a shell of what it once was. Many involved in agriculture agree that core ingredients are missing.

There used to be a Legislative Standing Committee for Agriculture that worked in a non-partisan way with farmers and experts across the province to generate new ideas and strong policy. The B.C. Liberals axed that back in 2001. I’ve been calling for it to be reinstated since I was first elected in 2009 but the current government prefers to listen to itself.

In response I created my own non-partisan Committee for Agriculture made up of six MLAs, including an independent legislator. We’ve travelled throughout B.C. holding public meetings, with more meetings planned for the future. We’ve listened carefully to hundreds of good ideas. We released our first report last year and are working on another for release before the end of this year. (Visit www.bcagcom.ca for more information.)

The most important part of any long-term food security plan is to protect the land which is best for crops and livestock. Regrettably, the most impactful thing done by the current government with respect to farming is to pass a law which severely compromised the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). They followed that up by firing the chair of the Agricultural Land Commission who had an extensive background in farming and a demonstrated commitment to strengthening agriculture in the province.

Recently the largest exclusion of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve in B.C.’s history was done in contravention of the law and in secrecy with zero public debate. In the push to create the Site C dam, more than 4,000 hectares of farmland was removed from the ALR by the stroke of a pen. This land is among the most fertile and potentially productive farmland in B,C. It could feed one million people in perpetuity. The government intends to flood it, destroying its agricultural potential forever.

Another indispensable part of an agricultural plan is having policies to promote farming. I am calling for a provincial procurement policy that would increase the amount of B.C. food purchased by B.C. public institutions. For example, if we created a policy that required just a fraction of food purchased for B.C. hospitals and long-term care facilities to be grown and processed in B.C. we would create a stable domestic agricultural economy and ensure B.C. has more food security in times of crisis. This single change would be the largest shift in agricultural policy in B.C. since the ALR was established. The money we would use is money we are already spending. In the Lower Mainland we spend $50 million on hospital meals alone. This change would have a massive multiplier effect, incenting food production and processing all over the province.

This type of policy is being used in other jurisdictions and it’s successful. Why do we not have that type of progressive policy in B.C.? The minister of agriculture doesn’t support it: he argues we shouldn’t dictate purchasing policy to hospitals. The public shouldn’t direct public institutions through policy? That makes no sense. Our tax dollars are currently spent to purchase out-of-province and out-of-county food products. Why would we not keep some of that in our province?

We are not going to strengthen agriculture in B.C. if we don’t restore the Ministry of Agriculture to a place of importance in the B.C. government. We need a commitment to long-term strategies that are resilient to global challenges like climate change and international instability. We can protect farmland, strengthen farming and ensure a local food supply, we just need the right recipe.

Lana Popham is the MLA for Saanich South

Source: http://www.saanichnews.com/community/387343681.html

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Summer Update

Dear Friends,

I hope you are all well and enjoying the summer.

I’m writing to update you about my work as the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Saanich South.

My volunteer team and I have knocked on more than 3,000 doors in the last six weeks. I’ve done this kind of community outreach every summer since first being elected. I love it! By the end of the summer I will have worn out a couple pairs of shoes but I will also have a deep understanding of what is going on in the constituency and where people want me to put my energy.

In addition to my regular MLA work, I’ve also taken on a bi-weekly column in the Saanich News. Here are links to the articles I’ve written so far:
I know there are many fun activities happening this summer but I can't resist giving a plug for one: Summer Star Parties at the Saanich Observatory! (These events are very close to my heart as I worked all out to restore public access to the Saanich Observatory in 2013 and 2014.) What happens at a Star Party? My favourite part is that super-keen and knowledgeable volunteers with the Royal Astronomical Society set up their telescopes and share the stars with you. On most nights there are also tours of the awesome Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO). There are also Astronomy lectures and presentations and displays at the Centre of the Universe. Some nights there is even music! And thanks to the hard work of many volunteers and the great folks at the National Research Council, it is free! But tickets are limited and sell out well in advance so you need to be on the ball to go. Tickets are available for free reservation one week before the event. So this Friday (tomorrow) tickets will be available for the next Star Party, on July 23rd. There are parties on July 30th and August 6th, 13th and 20th. Click here for more information and to reserve tickets.

In addition to my work in the constituency I am also very active in my duties as the Official Opposition Spokesperson for Agriculture and Food. Here are three examples.
1. As one of the leaders in the effort to stop Site C, last weekend I travelled to the Peace River to speak at a large rally of local farmers, residents, indigenous people and environmentalists.  If it isn’t stopped, this unneeded BC Liberal project will cost taxpayers at least eight billion dollars (expect the planned 28% rate increase to your BC Hydro bill to continue or increase if Site C goes forward); it will also permanently destroy more than 4000 hectares of BC’s best farmland, land that could feed a million people. The First Nations in the area are also strongly against the project and they are challenging it in court. (More information on perspective on Site C is available here.)
 
2. I continue to Chair the Opposition Standing Committee for Agriculture and Food. We’ve held six public meetings across the province, most recently in Cranbrook and Kelowna. This non-partisan Committee of six MLAs has heard from dozens of farmers and food-industry people across BC to gather the best ideas on how agricultural production can be increased and made more sustainable. We already tabled one report in the Legislature and will do another one before the end of the year. (Visit www.bcagcom.ca for more information.)

3. A few years ago I was working throughout the Cariboo and started to hear about a crazy situation. A UK based corporation was purchasing ALR land and using it to “green wash” their company by planting trees on farmland. This doesn’t sound so bad until you realize what was actually going on.

Planting trees really meant putting barbed wire fences up around hundreds of hectares to keep the community out, putting “no trespassing” signs up at entrance gates, taking down infrastructure to reduce property taxes, installing video surveillance equipment on trees, cutting rows and rows of huge trenches into beautiful ranch and range land making it dangerous for livestock and wildlife and destroying it for future farming, spraying herbicides from the air to control weeds for the newly planted trees with no regards for neighbouring farms that had livestock like sheep, failing to address natural fuel (grass) building up in the fields that are known to be forest fire hazards, etc., etc., etc.

I met with residents from Quesnel to Vanderhoof on this issue. I held two public meeting where residents could tell their stories. I arranged for the Standing Committee for Agriculture and Food to be in Williams Lake so residents had an opportunity to present their story to more MLAs. I brought the issue into the legislature in Question period and during any debates. So what happened?

First, BC Liberal Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick denied there was a problem. He mocked my calls for immediate action and downplayed the extent of the problem by thousands of hectares. Finally, the numbers of hectares became undeniably apparent and he had to admit there was a serious problem but he again mocked my calls for changes in legislation to control the problem and said the Agricultural Land Commission had the tools they needed to address the situation.

At this point public awareness on the issue had grown to the point where the UK company had to come to BC to try and control the bad publicity. They met with local officials and tried to come to a truce.

Minister Letnick claimed he met with this corporation and they “promised” not to continue this practice. The minister basically allowed a foreign corporation to decide our BC land use policy with a lick and a promise……that was good enough for the Minister.

I’ve been told recently that the tree planting activity is continuing regardless. I haven’t done any site visits myself but I will be travelling into the Cariboo again soon to verify this information as soon as possible.

Last week the BC Liberal government very quietly noted they would change regulations so that the ALC would have a new tool to possibly control a situation like this.

Let’s review the actions over a couple of years from the Minister of Agriculture shall we?
1. He denied there was a problem for months and months.
2. He down-played the situation and officially mocked my concern in the legislative chamber.
3. Next he became informed and expressed ‘shock’ at the extent of the problem.
4. He pushed back and said the Agricultural Land Commission had the tools to deal with the problem so don’t worry about it.
5. Next he met with, and allowed a foreign corporation to decide ALR land use policy.
6. Yesterday, he finally made a half-step to address the problem by giving the ALC a tool they can use to try and control this from happening again.

There is no reason to believe the BC government is serious about addressing this problem or that the change introduced this week will be an effective deterrent. This government has demonstrated over and over again that it will cash out the long-term value of the Agricultural Land Reserve for its own short-term political advantage. Background on this issue is available here.

Thanks for reading! To find out more about my work please visit my website, www.saanichsouth.ca. I’m also active on facebook and Instagram.

As always, if you require assistance with matters related to the provincial government please contact me. I’m here when you need me.

Lana

Lana Popham
Member of the BC Legislative Assembly for Saanich South
P: 250.479.4154 | | F: 250.479.4176  |  4085 Quadra, Victoria BC V8X 1K5
lana.popham.mla@leg.bc.ca  | facebook  |  saanichsouth.ca

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Saanich News: More must be done for struggling British Columbians

OPINION
Reprinted from the Saanich News, July 5 2016


Are you earning a low wage? Or living on a fixed income? Are you unable to work or unable to find a decent paying job? Are you struggling to get by or take care of your children and aged parents, or both at the same time?

If so I have a message for you: I’m your ally. I’m fighting for you.

As the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Saanich South, I hear from people almost every day who say the “game” is rigged against them. And in many ways it is. According to the Broadbent Institute, B.C. has the highest rate of wealth inequality in Canada. And it’s growing.

People who are struggling to take care of their most basic needs are suffering more and more.