Agriculture on the menu Monday for Opposition MLAs coming to Chilliwack

Some have characterized the committee tour as "political" but Chair Lana Popham said it's much more than that.

Five opposition MLAs and one independent MLA are on a tour of B.C. to hear what food producers have to say. The presentations are being scheduled for Monday

The future of agriculture in B.C. will be the focus of the Opposition Standing Committee for Agriculture and Food all day Monday in Chilliwack.

They’re ready to record the public presentations at UFV, and spaces were filling up fast this week, MLA Lana Popham told The Progress.

Popham is the chair of the committee coming to Chilliwack.

“The producers tend to bring their enthusiasm and commitment to growing food with them,” she said. “That why I love this file so much.”

Even though the committee is operating ad hoc, they’ve already been very successful so far. The way Popham gauges “success” is by the number of presenters who sign up.

“We were fully booked in both Williams Lake and Comox. So that’s been fantastic,” said Popham.

One of the topics raised was carbon offsets and the trend of planting trees on farmland.

“That issue is gaining some profile,” she said.

Another is how to make it easier for young people to start farming, or how to access land and financing.

In Chilliwack, the committee also expects to hear from the dairy sector, as well as those who grow hazelnuts, and are faced with the impacts of blight. Climate change will likely come up in the presentations.

“I don’t think we can avoid it.”

Some have characterized the Opposition committee as “political” but Popham said it’s much more than that. They’re asking specifically how the current provincial agricultural policies are affecting the Fraser Valley, and other farm communities, and how they could be made more balanced.

“It’s becoming more important, and not just for farmers or big agriculture, but for so many other parts of the community, like food security activists or restaurant owners to get a chance to express their views about the future of agriculture.”

Reg Ens, executive director of the B.C. Agriculture Council, said they are set to make a presentation.

“We’re still working on what we’re going to say,” he said.

But Ens praised the opportunity.

“We think it’s really good to do this. Discussion and debate is at the core of the democratic process.”

He supports the creation of a long-term provincial strategy on agriculture.

“There isn’t one but there needs to be. A 50-year timeline horizon would help steer the shorter term planning and decision-making.”

With more than 250 commodities or ag products it’s both “a strength and weakness” for B.C. to have such a diverse industry, he said.

A national strategy would also help, to give them a “lens” to look at policy through, said Ens.

“It’s all about how to balance everything, from food production, jobs, the economy, the environment and housing. It’s not all black and white. We have to decide what we’re willing to trade off as a society, and that changes over time.”

The committee is using a Go Pro to record presentations with plans to post them after the tour. Since it’s not a legislative standing committee, they do not get Hansard support, but still want to make the information public eventually.

In anticipation of the Chilliwack visit by Opposition MLAs, Chilliwack MLA John Martin prepared a Top 10 list of why the agriculture industry is flourishing across B.C., and in the Fraser Valley particularly.

“I know the NDP always likes to paint a picture of doom and gloom, but they need to look at the facts,” said Martin. “So I prepared a top ten list for those less familiar with the success that we are currently enjoying in agriculture, and point out the growing demand for delicious B.C. products,”

His list ranges from #1 “Local products taste good” all the way to #10 “Feel inspired by your food.”

One of the reasons is UFV Chilliwack’s Centre of Excellence for Agriculture.

Martin also pointed out that B.C. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick declared “a record year” for the industry in April, with agrifood exports growing 11% in 2014, reaching the highest total ever, just short of $3 billion.

“If the Opposition really wants a taste of the Fraser Valley, they should come here on a Saturday instead and visit the Downtown Chilliwack Farmers’ Market,” Martin added. “I encourage everyone to buy local and support our farmers, like what we are doing through the B.C Buy Local Program, and investing $6 million to promote farmers and their products.”

Five opposition MLAs and one independent MLA are on the tour. The public presentations are Monday, June 15 at University of the Fraser Valley, CEP Campus, Room A2207, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Contact lana.popham.mla@leg.bc.ca or call 250-479-4154 to arrange a time.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/chwkjourno

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