An advisory committee for agriculture in Greater Victoria is calling on Central Saanich to revive that municipality’s agricultural advisory committee.
Central Saanich council earlier last month adopted a new bylaw consolidating various committees, a move that led to the demise of the agricultural advisory committee, a decision questioned by the Peninsula and Area Agricultural Commission (PAAC).
Meeting last month, PAAC’s board passed a motion to express its “disappointment” about the dissolution of the committee, while “requesting that it be reinstated because it provided a voice for local farmers and feedback to PAAC.”
The request has an ironic note, as Central Saanich plans to draw on the expertise of PAAC, when it comes to dealing with agricultural issues.
Central Saanich is expected to consider the letter at its next council meeting.
The decision to disband the committee drew sharp reactions from former Central Saanich mayor Jack Mar, who has also been a prominent local farmer. He said earlier that the decision to disband the committee confirms in his mind that the majority of current Central Saanich councillors are only “paying lip-service” to agricultural issues.
“They don’t have a clue about agriculture,” said Mar. “They don’t support agriculture, period. That is why they are doing it.”
This drew a sharp response from Coun. Christopher Graham, who said in a letter that disbanding the committee would avoid duplication, making better use of staff resources.
The letter also argued that the move would create greater accountability and transparency and that “several of these [committee] members were active in discussions that could be seen as producing recommendations that could potentially benefit their own farms.”
“Moving items to PAAC instead helps reduce the risk of perceived conflict of interest, allows us to take advantage of both regional and provincial expertise, and avoids duplication of work, so that we can more effectively use our limited resources,” he said later.
He also questioned Mar’s larger point that Central Saanich was abandoning agriculture. “Central Saanich is a leader in agricultural advocacy not only in the region, but also in the province,” said Graham, in a pointing to a number of discussions between the municipality and the province.
Graham said council “is very aware of the importance of agriculture” and dedicates much of council and staff resources to protecting farmland from urban development, while promoting and encouraging farming. Graham’s letter noted that 60 per cent of Central Saanich is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and approximately another 20 per cent is rural with agriculture as a primary permitted use.
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