Valley farmers discuss ALR

Valley farmers discuss ALR

Mid Island Farmers Institute leading the way

By Chris Hilliar

Despite a rainy blustery night, 35 farmers and interested folk showed up at the Merville Hall on Jan. 17 to discuss how the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and Commission (ALC) could be revitalized.

And discuss they did – for a full two hours. Problems and solutions were duly recorded and will form part of a submission to provincial Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham.

The Mid Island Farmers Institute hosted the meeting with President Arzeena Hamir facilitating. Arzeena is co-owner of the local Amara Farm. She has a Masters Degree in Sustainable Agriculture from the University of London, England, and was recently appointed by the province to sit on a nine-member independent committee tasked with revitalizing the ALR and ALC.

“The assumption,” she pointed out, “is that the ALR system is broken.”

Little wonder, the ALR is now 45 years old, its legislation has been adulterated and watered down by special interests over the course of 10 successive governments.

The ALR was originally created by the Dave Barrett NDP government in 1973 when the province was losing prime agricultural land at the alarming rate of 6,000 hectares per year. The ALR enjoyed high public support with a survey in 1997 showing that 80 percent of British Columbians considered it unacceptable to remove land from the ALR.


FURTHER READING: B.C. Public Attitudes Survey, 2014; Share your ideas with the Ministry of Agriculture


Fast-forward to 2014 and a B.C. public attitudes survey revealed that 44 percent of British Columbians had heard little or nothing about the ALR.

But, attendees at the Farmers Institute meeting had clearly heard about the ALR and were quite aware of its benefits and shortcomings.

The designation of farmland into the Agricultural Land Reserve is contentious as some potentially excellent farmland is currently left out of the ALR and some poor quality land is currently held within the ALR.

Some expressed concern about non-agricultural uses of ALR land and the commission itself also came under fire for lack of enforcement, lack of transparency and political interference in its decision-making.

It also became apparent that the economics of farming are not easy on Vancouver Island.

Transportation, both on and off the Island is costly and the loss of the Island railway has affected farm prices and delivery. The small farmer with fixed costs faces an uphill battle against the big food corporations who can discount transportation costs with the result that imported food is often cheaper than locally grown food.

Housing for farm workers is also a problem both here and elsewhere in the province.

The high price of land is preventing young people from starting to farm and exacerbates the problem of succession planning for older farmers.

Some expressed concern that the purchase of land by marijuana growers will drive up land prices and food farmers will not be able to compete.

An added complication is how the province designates land as farmland, which has implications for taxation. Some felt that agri-tourism should not be allowed to be 100 percent of farm income to achieve farm status.

And, to no surprise, some suggested the recent government approval of the Site C Dam on the Peace River would set a precedent for the B.C. government to not protect farmland.

But it wasn’t just problems that were raised at the Merville meeting, there were lots of solutions too.
Someone suggested that the province should buy large farms that come on the market and then lease parcels out to young prospective farmers. They also suggested a Farmers’ Co-op could be established to provide low-interest funding for farming and that the province could help offset costs associated with the Water Act.

Insurance companies need to start recognizing the replacement value of farm buildings not just the assessed value and some felt there should be rewards and incentives for organic certification.

The crowd was also reminded that we could learn from other cultures. Many European countries have a very different style of land use where everyone, including farmers, lives in small villages surrounded by extensive open farmland with no domestic dwellings consuming large amounts of valuable food growing area — surely a stark contrast to the monster homes we sometimes see sitting on prime farmland in BC.

The Mid Island Farmers Institute has just started to compose their submission to send to the Provincial ALR committee.
If you have a comment that you would like to make to the Mid Island Farmers’ Institute you can contact them at:

Chris Hilliar is a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. He may be contacted at


With PR, everyone has a voice

With PR, everyone has a voice

Former Valley resident shares her NZ experience

Editor’s note: Katie Betanzo was raised in the Comox Valley and New Zealand. She’s a former editor of The Breezeway, the now defunct award-winning student newspaper at G.P. Vanier High School. Betanzo moved to New Zealand in 2001 and now teaches media studies and English in Auckland. She’s agreed to write a series of articles over the next year about how proportional representative government works in her adopted country. This is the first of those articles.



It’s been a long time since I took Politics 101. It was 1996, the year of the first MMP (mixed member proportional) election in New Zealand.

And while I have banished much of the content of those university lectures to the attic of my mind, I remember one story clearly: that of Sir Bob Jones and the 1984 New Zealand national election.

Jones, a business tycoon, wanted to bring down the right-wing government. But instead of throwing his weight behind the major left-wing party, he founded an ultra-right-wing party that won 12 percent of the votes and no seats.

But he succeed in splitting the right-wing vote. That helped the left-wing Labour party form a government with just 42 percent of the vote, and 59 percent of the seats.

This was possible because of the rules of the first-past-the-post electoral system (FPP).

Jones was not left-wing — far from it, in fact. But he could not abide the ultra-protectionist policies of the right-wing Muldoon government. By openly supporting the left-wing Labour Party, whose neo-liberal economic policy was right up Jones’ alley, Jones would have gained little.

Before New Zealand’s electoral reform and conversion to proportional representation, minority parties gained as high as 20 percent of the vote, but won only one or two seats. These MPs languished on the back benches of the opposition, effectively powerless, and the voices of the people who voted for them reduced to inconsequential protest votes.

Fast forward 33 years. In the general election of September 2017, the National Party won 44 percent of the vote, but could not form a government.

This is a good thing made possible by New Zealand’s electoral reform.

Effectively, 55 percent of the population voted for a center-left or left-wing party. Opinions differed about just how left we were willing to go, but that’s reflected in the wide choice of parties and policies. We now have a center-left coalition government, and in the spirit of compromise, we will please some of the people some of the time.

CBC, Wikipedia and Facebook tell me that British Columbia has a minority NDP government. We Kiwis are not strangers to that concept, although coalitions between like-minded parties are more common than minority governments.

The thing is, though, under a proportional system, there would have been no question of Clark forming a government. The Liberals and NDP would each have had 35 seats, and the Greens with 15 would hold the balance of power. (The remaining two seats would either have gone to the largest of the minor parties, or been split between Liberals and NDP — MMP is a tricky beast.)

In a later column I plan to talk about the pros and cons of different types of proportional representation, from my obviously biased perspective. However, it’s worth facing one criticism head on: uncertainty.

In an FPP system, forming a government is pretty straightforward. The party with the most seats is in charge. Under MMP, any group of parties able to command the majority of votes can form a coalition government.

For most elections, this is straightforward: many smaller parties go into the election campaign having already declared which of the major parties they are willing to work with. However, in the event that an undeclared centrist party holds the balance of power, negotiations can take a while.

Case in point: our most recent election. Election Day was Sept. 23. The government wasn’t formed until Oct. 19. There were plenty of disgruntled people following the formation of the government, as I imagine there were in BC following the last election.

There’s a brilliant explanation of our election result here. It involves a group of politicians trying to buy a pie (we are Kiwis, after all). By applying the analogy to BC, it’s very simple to see that Clark would not have been able to “buy the pie” with her share of the seats; the Liberals and NDP would both have courted the Greens.

Still, in the eight elections since MMP was introduced in New Zealand, this sort of protracted wrangling has happened only twice. Situation normal is to cast your vote knowing you are supporting a coalition that will be headed by a major party on the left or right. The Greens will only ever form a coalition with Labour; the Act party (far-right neo-liberals) can’t abide Labour. Pretty simple.

In 1993, the final FPP election here, only 31.5 percent of votes cast were for the National Party, which formed the government with 50 percent of the seats. Eighteen percent of the votes went to the left-wing Alliance party, which gained only 2 percent of the seats.

Since 2002, all governments have been coalitions commanding 50 percent or greater of the seats in the house, as well as 50 percent or greater of the popular vote.

As rule by the people, for the people goes, I think we’re on the right track.

Further reading: The road to MMP; from the website, New Zealand History


‘Organic’ now means organic

‘Organic’ now means organic

New bill provides clarity for consumers


The New Year is a time for new resolutions and if eating better is on your list, the government of B.C. has made the process just a bit easier.

In 2018, the province of British Columbia will enact Bill 11, a regulation to prohibit farmers, ranchers, bakers and other food processors from using the term “organic” on their labeling, unless the product is certified by a third party.

For the consumer, the new regulation means more market clarity. It ensures that ‘organic’ really means organic.

For the farmer and food processor, the new law means committing to certification or switching to a new adjective to describe their food.

“Consumers deserve to get what they’re paying for”, says Carmen Wakeling, President of the Certified Organic Association of B.C. and co-owner of Eatmore Sprouts in Courtenay. “The organic movement is built on transparency and until this regulation came into place, the marketplace was anything but transparent”.

When is “organic” not organic?

Before the passing of Bill 11, any producer could call their product “organic” without that product being inspected to ensure it met organic standards. 

Apart from needing to be pesticide-free, organic products are inspected to ensure that there is no contamination from genetically engineered (GE/GMO) inputs, have good soil health practices, and for animal producers, have animal welfare standards that ensure the animals have access to the outdoors and a healthy environment.

All of these rules were written by farmers and are part of the Canadian Organic Regime (COR), which governs organic practices across Canada.

Previously, growers in B.C. didn’t have to follow that regime or be inspected. They could label their product organic without any justification.

For instance, not only must egg producers feed their hens certified organic, GMO-free feed, they must have a minimum square footage per bird with enough roost space, and must ensure that the henhouse has enough light available during the day that would permit someone to read a newspaper inside. Birds must be given access to the outside and farmers must prove that their chickens actually do go outside.

Mariett Sluyter, of Whitaker Farms

Consumers are often surprised to hear how much animal welfare is imbedded into the organic standards.

“When we started, we thought we had a strong handle on what was organic, like many people using the term organic practices. It turns out there were areas we were not noticing,” says Mariett Sluyter, owner of Whitaker Farm in Merville, BC. “Having a set of standards to uphold helps us hold true to our values.”

Problems for small farms

But not everyone is pleased with the new regulations.

For small-scale growers who earn less than $10,000 a year, the approximate $400-$500 cost of certifying can seem onerous.

I’ll probably never certify,” says Erin Inness, a grower on the Sunshine Coast. “I meet every single person who buys food from me in person, so I always tell them if they want to see what I do they can come to the farm.”

For farmers who can’t afford to certify, they can speak directly with their customers and use other labels on their produce, such as non-sprayed, sustainable, or natural.

Implications for the Comox Valley

The changes in labeling regulations will certainly have implications for the Comox Valley.

A search of Facebook found a number of small farm businesses selling “organic” eggs and other products. Unless the farm is purposely operating at a loss, certified organic eggs can’t be sold under $7 a dozen due to the cost of feed.

But where the implications will be most felt will be with bakeries. Currently, at least four bakeries in the valley are selling “organic” bread products, which are uncertified. Although they may contain organic flour, some even list canola oil (genetically engineered) as an ingredient.

Consumers who are still unsure of whether a product is certified or not are encouraged to ask business owners first. If a satisfactory answer isn’t obtained, a complaint can be made to Emma Holmes –the new Organic Extensionist for BC Ministry of Agriculture at (604) 556-3087 or

Arzeena Hamir is a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at


Record’s error went beyond omitting a disclaimer

Record’s error went beyond omitting a disclaimer

The Comox Valley Record, our local newspaper, drew widespread criticism last week by turning over its Dec. 12th front page to an advertisement that looked like a news story. The “advertorial” was sponsored by a development company at war with some residents and the Comox Valley Regional District.

But it wasn’t the newspaper’s real front page. It was what the industry calls a “wrap” — an advertisement that mimics the look of an actual front page, but is, in fact, a fake front page. The special outrage in the case was caused by the paper’s failure to label it as advertising.

In response, people have left a long thread of mostly angry comments on the Record’s Facebook page, where publisher Keith Currie apologized for “inadvertently” failing to include “identifying markers, making it easily recognizable to the reader as an advertisement, and not editorially-produced journalism.”

Most people aren’t buying his mea culpa.

Reading the paper’s Facebook page thread, it’s obvious that people believe the newspaper intentionally left off a typographical element that would have identified the two-page groan by a Fanny Bay company, 3L Developments, which is frustrated that it can’t bend the will of the CVRD planning department.

Angry readers seem to think the developer flashed his cash so the publisher and advertising manager would look the other way when the page went to press without a prominent disclaimer identifying it as an ad, not a news story.

It’s a believable theory, but a hard one to prove.

As someone who has spent 50+ years in the newspaper business, I can assure you that advertisers sometimes do pressure advertising sales representatives to omit disclaimers. I can also verify that all newspaper employees know — or should know — the absolute rule that requires paid content to be clearly identified as such.

That said, humans make errors, and this could have been one.

But the problem in this case is that the focus on an omission of a disclaimer misses the most troubling aspect of this fiasco.

The more serious error committed by the Record was that it published the advertorial on its fake front page at all.

In the long, slow decline of printed newspapers, the search for new sources of advertising revenue has led to the selling of its most precious real estate: the front page. It started with banner ads across the bottom and small ads at the top.

The selling of the front page has escalated into fake front page wraps. These are usually recognizable advertisements for retail businesses. They’re ads just like the ones inside the newspaper. But for a higher price, the newspaper will put them on a false front.

Even such esteemed newspapers as The Los Angeles Times do it.

The 3L Developments fake page falls into a different category, however, because it mimics a news story. Whether to publish it on the cover of the newspaper should have included ethical considerations — and rejection.  

Why? The 3L Developments advertisement bemoans its plan to develop 495 acres along the Brown and Puntledge rivers, including the popular Stotan Falls. The controversial project has already triggered several legal actions.

And the content of the advertorial includes disparaging remarks about the actions of an elected official and an unverified quote from a CVRD staff member.

By placing the advertorial on a fake front page, The Record unfortunately gave the impression that 3L Developments’ version of the situation was factual, without the scrutiny that a legitimate news gathering organization would require.

3L Developments may be able to support every word in its advertorial. That isn’t the point. Although, there’s no indication so far that the Record conducted any independent fact-checking.

Knowing the topic is so controversial and legally complex, the Record committed a serious error in judgment by giving the advertorial such prominent placement.

The omission of some words identifying the article as paid advertising content is trivial by comparison.

But before we’re done roasting the Record or any other publication that publishes advertorials on fake front pages or elsewhere, let’s take a moment to reflect on the slow breaking down of the historical wall between advertising and news.

Have you opened a web page recently and seen a fake news (aka “sponsored content”) post like this: “How I made $2,000 a week working from my Comox Valley home!” Or, “How I achieved financial freedom working just four hours per week?”

These are just the reinvention of print newspaper and magazine ads that, for example, tout formulas for losing weight without diet or exercise, or how people can improve their eyesight to see in the dark.

Presenting advertising in a quasi-news format has made the wall between actual journalism and paid content so paper thin that it is almost invisible to the unwary reader. And that only benefits advertisers.

Marketers have discovered that inserting paid content that looks like news next to real journalism can boost the credibility of their products.

It does something else, too: it drags everybody down. Most people aren’t completely fooled by the paid content, but the work of serious journalists gets tainted by association.

The editors who mentored me in my early journalism career pounded home the notion that acting ethically was just as important as how many words per minute I could type.

In a world where the term “fake news” gets thrown around indiscriminately, some people no longer feel bound to think and act ethically. Sadly, that’s going to sully real journalism for everybody else.


Courtenay tackles wood stoves

Courtenay tackles wood stoves

Will Comox, Cumberland, CVRD join the party?

By Rebecca Lennox

This resolution passed unanimously at yesterday at council. As I look back over the year, I am grateful that I had the honour of being your voice on council and I look forward to almost another year in that seat.

It is hard sometimes to know if I am doing the right thing, as there are so many huge issues facing us, but I do my best and that is all anyone can do in life.

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to be engaged in their community and to all of you who make the Comox Valley the wonderful place it is. Best wishes for 2018.

Rebecca Lennox is a member of the Courtenay City Council. She may be reached at


It is well documented that poor Comox Valley air quality continues to be a major issue for residents of the City of Courtenay, not to mention the associated health concerns. The problem is most acute during the winter months.

Our provincial government has enacted more stringent regulations concerning wood burning appliances sold in B.C. as well as clearly identified the types of fuel that can be burned in those appliances, all in an effort to reduce pollution.

The City has worked in partnership with the Regional District to improve air quality with programs such as the Wood Stove Exchange Program as well as public education.

To date, 71 applications have been received for rebates to update wood appliances to the new code, but sadly only 4 of those applications are from Courtenay residents.

It is clear that the City needs to take further action, therefore I am proposing the following resolution:

1) Wood burning appliances are a popular means of home heating in the City of Courtenay;

2) The City of Courtenay is identified as one of the top ten BC communities for PM2.5 level pollution, that is fine particulate matter that can be inhaled deep into the lung;

3) Studies have proven that there is a direct correlation between PM2.5 pollution and serious health conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, lung and heart disease, not to mention the impact on other serious health conditions. Children and older adults are most at risk but no one is immune;

4) A recent study conducted by Health Canada not only here in the Courtenay/Comox area, but also Kamloops and Prince George has found a direct correlation between elevated levels of PM2.5 from wood burning to hospital admissions for heart attacks; and

5) According to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, advanced wood burning appliances compared to older, uncertified appliances can:

-reduce toxic emissions by as much as 55%,

-reduce PM2.5 emissions by as much as 70%

-increase energy efficiency by at least 70%

-use 30-50% less firewood;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Council direct staff to implement the following measures to reduce City air pollution with the objective of protecting the health of our residents, including:

1) implementation of a two year program to bring all wood burning appliances within the City in compliance with current federal CSA and provincial certifications and emissions standards;

2) provide those residents who can demonstrate that upgrading their current wood burning appliance to a modern, cleaner and more efficient appliance would present an undue financial hardship with financial assistance in the form of an interest free loan from the City to enable them to update their appliance;

3) effective immediately, homes sold with wood burning appliances within the City of Courtenay will be required to confirm that the appliance conforms to the latest federal and provincial government certifications and emissions standards or replace the appliance with a compliant model;

4) create and implement municipal regulations and guidelines outlining the types of fuels allowed to be burned within the City of Courtenay; and

5) advocate with the Town of Comox, Village of Cumberland and the Comox Valley Regional District to adopt similar regulations.

Union Bay: in or out of CVRD?

Union Bay: in or out of CVRD?

Board video goes missing, decision reversed

By Alice de Wolff

The Union Bay Improvement District (UBID) board has done an about-face.

On Nov. 16, the UBID Board of Trustees voted to evaluate the pros and cons of joining the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD).   

 But at a public meeting on Dec. 14, it became clear that the board does not have a unified will to act on this motion, at least not in the immediate future.   

First of all, landowners learned that the minutes of the Nov. 16 meeting do not include the relevant motion. The UBID Administrator reported that the motion and its discussion were somehow deleted from the video recording of the meeting and consequently didn’t make it into the minutes.

An amended set of minutes are promised in the new year.

But now it appears that the board made another decision to defer initiating the process until the UBID has completed several major projects.  The Board made this decision at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Dec. 13.  

No formal record of this decision has been made public. However, Janet Thomas, a landowner who was present at that meeting, reports that the board voted to not approach the CVRD until: 1) the new water filtration system is set up; 2) the watershed around Langley Lake is protected from logging; and, 3) the fire hall is secured.   

At yet another public meeting, on Dec. 14, the board chair responded to several questions from landowners about when the board would start the process of exploring a merger with the CVRD, and what would be involved. 

The chair stated repeatedly that joining the CVRD was not on the board’s agenda.  

Alice de Wolff is a Union Bay resident and a Citizen Journalist with the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. She can be reached at


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