B.C. Green Party Leader and Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA  Andrew Weaver is calling for a ban on the foreign ownership of designated farmland in British Columbia.

In early August of 2016, the B.C. Liberal government imposed a 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers. Weaver says this earlier tax had only a short term impact on speculative buying in the Lower Mainland and didn't go far enough to stop speculative investment in other areas where the tax isn't imposed, namely farmland.

Weaver says foreign nationals are now looking at land zoned for agricultural use as an investment opportunity.

"A safe haven for that investment is property lands, particularly large swaths of land, in British Columbia," said Weaver during an interview with On the Island.

"That doesn't bode well for future affordability and future security, if we start letting it happen." 

Weaver points to Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and P.E.I. as examples of other jurisdictions that have stronger measures put in place to protect against foreign ownership and he feels B.C. is behind the times.

He also says the Agricultural Land Reserve and Agricultural Land Commission, the current organizations that ensure farmland is used only for farming, don't go far enough to address the issue of beginner farmers not being able to afford land to start working on.

"The single biggest barrier to young people becoming farmers is access to affordable land," says Weaver. "So, it's important that the price of this land not get out of control, so nobody can actually afford it other than speculative investors."

Weaver's proposed ban would stop investors buying parcels of farmland over a certain size.

The legislation he floated in the fall of last year set the size at five acres across the province. Now, Weaver has opened the size restrictions up to consultation, as he recognizes a farmer in Metro Vancouver has different land requirements than a rancher in the Cariboo Region.

'It's not just foreign ownership'

Cariboo rancher Lynda Atkinson says the key issue is making sure the roughly five per cent of B.C. that's zoned for agricultural use is only used for agriculture. She says government has struggled with this issue for years and Weaver's proposed ban may not be the solution.

She says investing in farmlands across the world is the new way to use money and while it's not always to the benefit of farmers, the pressures on agricultural land users don't always come from foreign owners. 

"It's not just foreign ownership," said Atikinson. "We want investment. Canadians may not be the ones who are investing. The land needs to be farmed, and whether it's foreign ownership or B.C. ownership is one issue, but the land needs to farmed."

Atkinson says a balanced suite of comprehensive policies could potentially include a ban on foreign ownership but more important is a strengthening of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

She says the new NDP government is working hard on the issue and Minister of Agriculture and Lands Lana Popham has done good work with the ALR so far.

Weaver says he's been in open conversations with Popham and thinks announcements regarding the ban and related policies could be seen in the coming days,

With files from On the Island and Daybreak North