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Calls continue for MLA Pat Pimm to step down as commission investigates Fort St John rodeo

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Calls continue for B.C. Agricultural Minister Pat Pimm to step down. He's under fire for allegedly interfering with the independent Agriculture Land Commission. The Commission's job is to protect B.C. farmland, and commission officials say Pimm took actions that could be viewed as attempting to politically influence their decision-making. At stake was whether to turn farmland into a rodeo ground near Fort St John.

The commission says Pimm and his staff contacted them several times advocating for the rodeo, potentially overstepping his bounds as a cabinet minister. The government watchdog Integrity B.C. says Pimm should step down, while the B.C. NDP claim Pimm's actions are part of the B.C.'s Liberals ongoing plans to undermine the Agricultural Land Commission.

Premier Clark defends Pimm

Premier Christy Clark says she will not be asking Pimm to step aside because he was simply advocating on behalf of a constituent when he pledged his support for the rodeo proposal.

However Clark says in the interest of the rules being clearly stated, Pimm has asked B.C.'s Conflict of Interest Commissioner to rule on what's appropriate in such a situation for all MLAs.

"The ALC is absolutely an independent body. Its independence must be respected.  At the same time MLAs must be able to bring forward concerns and issues on behalf of their constituents as Mr Pimm did," Clark said.         . 

Rodeo grounds already built

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A rodeo ground in Fort St John is the center of a political controversy.
Meanwhile, at least part of the rodeo grounds have already have been built. This happened despite the fact the Agricultural Land Commission ruled against the idea, saying it doesn't make sense to use viable farmland for a rodeo when there are other areas near Fort St John that would be more appropriate for the project.

The man behind the rodeo project is Terry McLeod. He has told CBC that he doesn't believe he's broken any rules, saying it's his land and adding that the city of Fort St John needs a rodeo.

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The Agricultural Land Commission has confirmed it is investigating the creation of the rodeo grounds despite this ruling, though it isn't clear what action they might take.

Local politicians support rodeo

McLeod has the support of local government officials, as well. Fort St John mayor Lori Ackerman has advocated for the project, and in February 2013 directors of  the Peace River Regional District voted to support the idea of rezoning McLeod's land from agricultural to commercial to support his application to the ALC. This decision happened despite a recommendation from PRRD staff that the decision be postponed until after the Agricultural Land Commission made their decision.

PRRD chair Karen Goodings told CBC that there is a lot of support for the project, and that the regional district was simply helping McLeod make his case. "The only way it can go to the land commission is if we do support," she told CBC. "If we didn't support it, it would die right there." She notes the PRRD only put the application through the first two readings, and have not finalized the decision.

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