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James Steidle: Northern B.C. deserves agricultural autonomy

The B.C. Vegetable Marketing Commission does not have local growers' interests at heart
20210226 Banff Food Rescue 0046
The B.C. Vegetable Marketing Commission, which has regulatory and legal powers, represents B.C. growers.

It doesn’t matter who we elect in this coming provincial election.

It’s not just that Northern B.C. is a drop in the bucket as far as the Lower Mainland and Victoria is concerned, MLA-wise.

It’s also that the broader machinery of government is centralized in out-of-touch bureaucratic empires in Victoria that are unaccountable to the broader public, a problem that grows worse when small, distant communities are impacted.

The latest example is the B.C. Vegetable Marketing Commission. This is essentially a producer cartel dominated by lower mainland agricultural interests that the government in Victoria has given regulatory and legal powers. This agency has suddenly decided it will now add Northern B.C. to its responsibilities. It has done this without consulting most local producers, let alone consumers, and it has done this with no consideration as to how this will impact local food production and local food security.

Northern commercial growers who once sold produce to large local retailers are now legally obligated to go grovelling to one of the 11 out-of-area marketing agencies, pay them a cut, and hope they will market and/or distribute their produce. There is no guarantee or requirement that they will.

It has huge implications for local food security, but good luck finding anyone in the provincial government who cares.

Only our local governments seem to care, including the Regional District of Fraser Fort George, who during an April 18 meeting demanded the B.C. Vegetable Marketing Commission explain itself to the board.

And therein lies the answer to what needs to happen. What we need is greater regional autonomy and control over the bureaucratic machinery that affects our lives.

Another example of the problem is how the district manager of our local forests is unaccountable to local MLAs and the public. How is it he is accountable only to a washed-up Victoria bureaucracy which shamelessly ignores the realities while continuing to agriculturalize our forests in the face of declining moose populations and expanding wildfires?

And good luck finding our Minister of Forests. He seems to spend more time cosplaying as an international dignitary down in Surrey than dedicating his time to the millions of hectares of forests he is supposedly responsible for.

Our political system is largely for show and the true political apparatus is a centralized Victoria bureaucracy our MLAs don’t control, regardless of who is elected this fall.

The only thing that will fix this situation is an empowered regional district system that follows the basic principles of federalism our entire nation was based on.

The bigger principle is simple: the people most affected by a decision should be those who control those decisions. There should be partial or complete local democratic control over Northern Health, BC Transit, Transportation, Forestry, and Agriculture to name a few.

What we have instead is increasingly like the broken democracies we see in France and England where power resides in an out-of-touch and arrogant centralization of authority prone to abuse.

In other words, what we have is fundamentally an un-Canadian system that serves no democratic value and serves no value to Northern B.C.

James Steidle is a Prince George writer.