A non-partisan government watchdog says B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm must resign from cabinet for directly lobbying the Agricultural Land Commission.
IntegrityBC argues Pimm crossed a clear line requiring cabinet ministers not interfere with the independence of judges or quasi-judicial commissions like the ALC when he urged the commission over the spring and summer to reverse its decision against allowing a rodeo grounds and campground as a non-farm use on a parcel of Fort St. John farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“When a minister crosses that line, the minister resigns,” IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis said. “He didn’t cross it just once. He crossed it a multitude of times.
Pimm first wrote to the ALC on the issue May 17 as an MLA elect – two days after the provincial election – to express “concern” with the initial decision and in late May personally intercepted the ALC’s on-the-ground visit to the 70-hectare site to register his strong support for reversal.
Pimm’s staffers contacted the ALC once more in June and twice on July 25, when his ministerial assistant said Pimm wanted to know the outcome of the ALC’s reconsideration.
That led the ALC to issue a July 26 policy statement scolding Pimm’s representations as “not appropriate” lest it lead to an impression of the commission being politically influenced.
The ALC also said in its final Aug. 19 decision rejecting the rodeo use that any MLA who thinks a decision before the ALC is too significant to leave as an independent decision can try to persuade cabinet to take that file out of the commission’s hands.
It said the ALC exists as an independent entity to avoid basing farmland decisions on “the politically expedient, the crisis of the day or short-term profit that sacrifice agricultural land forever.
“The Commission exists precisely to prevent the British Columbia public waking up one day and asking ‘what happened to our agricultural land.'”
Pimm told CKNW Monday he has stopped making direct interventions in files with the ALC, but feels he did nothing wrong and was merely acting in his advocacy role as an MLA on an issue of local concern.
Travis said he clearly continued to act on the file after becoming minister in June.
Earlier this year, federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan resigned his post for inappropriately writing a letter in 2011 on behalf of a constituent regarding a case coming before the federal tax court.
Travis said Duncan quit quickly and honourably and Premier Christy Clark must insist Pimm do the same.
“If you have ministers running around thinking that it is okay to lobby judges, then we’re going to have a serious problem maintaining the separation of the two institutions.”
Travis said Pimm’s interference with the ALC also taints the government’s leaked plans to consider major changes to the commission, including potentially bringing it under the direct control of the agriculture ministry.
“Any changes that they consider will be looked at as Mr. Pimm trying to get back at the Agricultural Land Commission for rapping him on the knuckles,” Travis said.
“The entire process is now suspect. The government has no other option at this point but to pull it off the table.”
Bill Bennett, the minister in charge of the government’s core review, last week insisted the province isn’t considering dismantling the ALC or bringing it within government.
The leaked cabinet documents also indicated the province might separate the ALR into two zones to potentially offer looser treatment of farmland in the north and Interior, where Bennett says large amounts of unfarmable land is locked in the ALR.