MLAs set up rebel group on agriculture

 

Independent MLA Vicki Huntington has agreed to co-chair a renegade Opposition committee on agriculture with Saanich South MLA Lana Popham.

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Popham, the NDP’s agriculture critic, organized the rebel group after the Liberal government rebuffed calls for an official standing committee. The last one was disbanded in 2001, Popham said.

Huntington said Thursday that the lack of properly functioning committees of MLAs is “one of the great under-achievements of our democracy in the legislature.”

The Delta South MLA hopes to highlight that issue, while also focusing attention on agriculture and food security.

“I think it’s a good initiative and I think it brings attention to the fact that these standing committees don’t work properly and, in some cases, like agriculture, don’t exist,” she said.

As an unofficial committee, Popham, Huntington and the other members will receive no money or clerical support. Nor will Hansard record the proceedings. Popham hopes to livestream the meetings, perhaps with the help of a GoPro camera. “I won’t be wearing it on my head, but that would make it interesting,” she joked.

Popham expects the committee will meet monthly around the province. People will register to make 10-minute presentations and the committee will likely issue a report next fall.

“It ramps up the discussion and the importance of agriculture,” Popham said. “Although the government is choosing not to participate, it’s certainly a message that they’re going to be hearing, so I think the committee will still have the ability to influence policy decisions.”

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said Popham and Huntington are “doing what politicians do, which is try to attract attention to their cause.”

But he dismissed the need for a standing committee. “I have a ministry advisory committee made up of people from different parts of agriculture and agrifoods, including aquaculture,” he said.

The advisory committee will meet in the coming weeks to go over the ministry’s draft agrifoods plan. “That’s really the benefit of having that committee structure with industry players on it as opposed to politicians,” Letnick said.

Huntington said the Opposition committee will give local communities and citizens a chance to be heard. “Anything that can publicize the need to spend more time in defining what food security means to the people of this province is important,” she said.

Huntington said the Liberals dislike legislative committees because they “don’t like losing control.”

“The fewer committees you have, the fewer opportunities you have for input or for publicity or for criticism,” she said.

“In the time I’ve been in the house, the standing committee on environment has never met. The standing committee on Crown corporations [has] never met.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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