Richard Leblanc, executive director of Woodwynn Farms (File)

Woodwynn Farms participants crash MLA’s office

Olsen said politicians can’t overturn ALC decision

Clients of Woodwynn Farms and executive director Richard Leblanc went to MLA Adam Olsen’s constituency office on Dec. 15 to meet with him and voice their concerns. The meeting, which was unscheduled, came one day after the District of Central Saanich staff placed ‘no occupancy’ signage on RVs and washrooms on the property and approximately a month after the provincial Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) denied their application to build temporary housing for up to 40 people on the property.

In a video posted to Facebook Live, Leblanc asked, “Can we count on your support? That’s the big question.”

Olsen replied, “I have always said, Richard, always, all along, that I support the utilization of agricultural land. I have always said that it is a farm operation on agricultural land as long as it’s put in [those] terms to put the applications forward.”

Leblanc, who came to his office with a sample of the food products made on the farm, said they are farming every day, with “over 400 livestock at one point this summer.” Leblanc asked Olsen to “work with us instead of throwing [up] roadblocks and roadblocks.”

“I’ve always put forward ways in which the farm can be successful in the applications,” said Olsen. “I’ve always worked with you on that side of it. Unfortunately, that’s not always how I’ve been characterized, but that’s the business that we’re in.”

In a follow-up interview, Leblanc said the meeting was awkward.

“Obviously we put Adam on the spot but I was hoping to get his attention. I think we were successful,” said Leblanc, adding he liked Olsen on a personal level.

In a ruling dated Nov. 9, 2017, the ALC Executive Committee wrote that its own mandate was to “preserve agricultural land and encourage farming on agricultural land in collaboration with other communities of interest. While the Executive Committee recognizes the social benefits of the proposal, it does not outweigh the priority given to agriculture.”

The ruling also felt that “farm worker accommodation should be commensurate with the level of agriculture on the Property,” and that current and proposed levels of agricultural activities would be “insufficient to justify the placement of 40 farm worker accommodations.”

Olsen said he would base his level of support on how the meeting goes between Woodwynn, the District of Central Saanich and himself. In a follow-up interview, Olsen told the Peninsula News Review that because the ‘no occupancy’ order was within local jurisdiction, he could not influence it.

Olsen said he had spoken to Lana Popham, MLA for Saanich South, on the issue before she became Minister of Agriculture, but that they had not spoken about these latest developments. Olsen said that as a Minister, Popham cannot direct the ALC to rule one way or another because it is an independent body. However, Olsen said he would meet with Minister Popham about the ALR and the ALC at a high level in the new year.

If you or someone you know has ever been a client of Woodwynn Farms and want to share your experience, e-mail reporter@peninsulanewsreview.com

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