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VIEW: Kootenay land commission stats cast doubt on Bennett's claims

IntegrityBC has reviewed 660 applications to the Agricultural Land Commission filed in the Kootenay district, following comments from Bill Bennett, minister responsible for the core review, that the proposed changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve are the result of listening to his constituents.

"Based on Bennett's claims one would imagine that application after application was routinely coming back from the ALC stamped 'rejected,'" said IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis. "And that's far from the case."

According to IntegrityBC's review, 72.3 per cent of the applications to the ALC (from 2006 to 2012) in the Kootenays were approved (some with conditions) and 27.7 per cent were rejected outright. Numbers that point to the need for public consultations on Bill 24 -- as Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick promised last week -- and not shotgun passage of the bill as Bill Bennett threatened the next day.

"This is a debate that needs far more fact-based analysis and far less old wives' tales," said Travis.

In an interview with Bill Tieleman, Bennett said he decided to change the ALR because he has been "listening to his constituents for 13 fucking years! And this is what they want me to do, so I get really upset when people say that this is something other than what it is."

"Bluster from Bennett doesn't make the case for Bill 24 and neither do these statistics from the ALC," said Travis noting that with an approval rate of nearly three out of every four ALC applications, it's difficult to believe that his constituents are so hot under the collar as to justify the long arm of Bill 24.

And if the 660 applications received by the ALC in the Kootenay district are any indication, the commission also has a pretty good handle on what good agricultural land is, despite Bennett's contention that "there is a ton of land within the reserve that you can't grow anything on."

Some ALC approvals in the Kootenays were based -- in the commission's words -- on the "limited agricultural potential" of the land in question.

IntegrityBC only considered ALC decisions and did not track the applicants to each application. Therefore, it's possible that the 27.7 per cent rejection rate is lower since some applicants could have been rejected more than once or were rejected on their first attempt and later approved on a revised application. Nor did the organization look at whether applicants, who were conditionally approved, proceeded with their plans. Some of the applicants did not reside in B.C. at the time of their application.

The organization also criticized the B.C. government for using the ALR to try and drive a wedge between rural British Columbians and non-rural British Columbians.

Dermod Travis is executive director of IntegrityBC. A zip file of applications and decisions is available. Contact [email protected] for a copy.

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