After intense public outcry, the province has released a new policy intentions paper which they say will provide more residential flexibility for those living in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

Bill 52 eliminated the two separate zones of the ALR, introduced stricter rules around the dumping of fill and removal of soil on ALR land, and severely restricted options for secondary dwellings, imposing a new residence ‘limit’.

A Facebook group called ‘Changes to Bill 52’ was created as a platform for affected farmers and ALR stakeholders to give voice to their many concerns over legislation they felt was unjustly punitive. However, the group soon expanded to include concerned citizens, non-ALR landowners, prospective farmers, and even politicians.

On Oct. 28, 2019, farmers rallied at the legislature to protest against Bill 52. On that date, Liberal MLA Ian Paton also presented to the House a petition, which has now reached over 31,000 signatures, calling for repeal of the legislation. Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham and the House rejected the petition, stating that it was in an unaccepted format due to the signatures being collected via – the BC government does not recognize online petitions.

Meghan McPherson, creator of the ‘Changes to Bill 52’ group who spearheaded much of the campaign against the legislation, is a prospective farmer who owns a one-hectare ALR parcel in Courtenay. She and her family were directly impacted by Bill 52, along with many others across the province.

“All of these people that had one residence plus the previously allowed legal suite above the barn or a legal modular in place, all of a sudden had illegal housing on their property – even though it was legally put in place. So, Bill 52 made that housing conditional to farm use, even though that housing was put in unconditional to farm use. So, then the question became, ‘how is the ALC going to be able to determine the difference?’ Because they went and made a whole bunch of legal housing around the province conditional on wording that they didn’t want to define.”

With the changes proposed in the intentions paper, McPherson said she feels some relief, but in her case and others, it is somewhat a case of ‘too little, too late.’

“I’ve spent the last year of my life devoted to fighting this. I’ve lost sleep, I’ve lost $50,000 in resources, just personally, and I’m not the only one. There are families around the province who have lost so much money and so much sleep just fighting the legislation, and because of lost opportunities. They’ve had to sell their properties, or they’ve missed the opportunity to buy a property because the second dwelling was no longer legal. Or in my case, my mother had to move somewhere else, and we’d already put $50,000 into the development. And now my mom’s just getting settled into her new place, so we’re not going to be uprooting her again any time soon.”

While people like McPherson remain cautious, they are optimistic at the potential changes, which would be an improvement over the pre-Bill 52 legislation. Outlined in the intentions paper are new residential options not previously permitted, such as garden suites, guest houses, carriage suites, dwellings over existing farm structures, and permitting a principal residence to be constructed in addition to a manufactured or modular home that was originally a principal residence. Secondary dwellings would also not be required to be a manufactured home for immediate family members, as previously stipulated.

“I’m optimistic that the Minister wouldn’t allow this paper to be published if it wasn’t actually her intention, so it’s a step in the right direction. And overall, I feel very positive about the changes that are being proposed in this intention paper,” McPherson said.

“What they proposed in the intention I feel is an ideal outcome as far as residential use goes. But an ideal outcome long term for me would see that there is better method of communication in place for stakeholders of ALR properties, whether they’re farming or not.”

The policy intentions paper was a result of collaboration between the ALC, BC Agriculture Council and the Union of BC Municipalities. Also included in the considerations were the public feedback the ministry heard during recent public consultations throughout the province.