B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham was at a loss for words in the legislature last week as opposition MLAs took her to task in advance of second reading of Bill 15, which proposes several changes to how the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) operates.
“I don’t even know how to respond to that,” she said, after Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong said the bill’s definition of “person” as “the Province, a First Nation government or a local government, or a prescribed public body” showed utter disrespect for farmers.
A growing chorus of critics are taking issue with the bill’s effort to prevent landowners from making direct application to the ALC for exclusions, a key feature touted by the government as strengthening the commission’s independence.
“You have a fundamental right to have direct access to that body,” de Jong told about 200 people from across the Lower Mainland at a rally in Surrey on March 24, calling Bill 15 “fundamentally undemocratic.”
The bill follows the entrenchment in law last fall of provincial guidelines limiting residential development on farmland. The guidelines were developed in 2011 under the former BC Liberal government, but local governments had discretion over whether or not to embrace them. Most did not, creating issues in Richmond and other municipalities.
The new bill would tighten controls on development even further by making municipalities the applicant of record when properties come before the ALC. De Jong told Business in Vancouver that similar legislation denying urban landowners the right to represent their interests to the province would be unthinkable.
Government showed little intention last week to bend to critics, however. Popham’s response to de Jong put the criticisms down to different world views.
“There will always be a fight between the official Opposition and the government, because we believe strongly that the Agricultural Land Reserve was put in place for future generations,” she said. “[The Opposition] believes it’s there for development.”
Residential condo owners renewing their home insurance policies may be in for a shock this spring.
Yours truly, for example, opened his renewal notice last week to find the base premium had increased 30 per cent. The brokerage said it’s modest compared with the increases others are starting to see – increases that Shawn Fehr, president of the Insurance Brokers Association of BC, said will likely become commonplace in the months ahead.
“It’s the beginning of the cycle,” he said. “We’re starting to get a feel for where the market is going, and it’s turning into a hard market – low capacity and high rate.”
Several factors are at play, said Fehr, who works with Seafirst Insurance Brokers Ltd. in Colwood.
On the one hand, the insurance companies that write the policies that brokers source for homeowners did poorly in 2018 and their investments didn’t deliver the returns needed to recharge their books.
“What they’re doing is trying to figure out how to restructure their business lines to be more profitable,” Fehr explained.
This has put condominium insurance in the crosshairs, because it’s traditionally been the most affordable. Unfortunately, policies written for strata corporations have been shifting risk to homeowners, and a good part of that risk is water damage from burst pipes, overflowing washers and cut sprinkler lines.
“Condo policies have always been a cheap little safe policy,” he said. “[But] the water losses in strata buildings and the downloading of deductibles from strata policies onto condo owners … have had an effect.”
Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of BC, agreed that brokers have a diminishing pool of options for sourcing insurance.
“The brokers are being monopolized by two large companies squeezing out competitors,” he said.
But he also questions companies’ need to balance their books on the backs of B.C. condo owners.
“I doubt the insurance industry is losing money in B.C.,” he remarked.