Some of you will have read an article in the recent Country Life magazine that questioned the democracy of advocacy. As one of the interviewees in the article, I was referring to the BCAC.

I think it is important to realize a couple of things. The BCAC is a private advocacy or, if you like, lobby organization. It is not a public organization. It is one bought and paid for by its membership. It is its membership that decides what and in what way it intends to speak to the province on matters of interest to its membership. Its Board of Directors comprises membership of a variety of agricultural commodity organizations, plus a Community Agriculture representative. The Community Agriculture representative is understood to reflect the sentiments, concerns and interests of non-commodity specific small farms and niche market farms…. which comprise about 70% of BC’s farming community (but which generate only about 20% of BC’s total farmgate receipts).

The BCAC presents itself as being representative of BC’s entire farming community.

As BC’s only general farm organization, the province has come to rely on the BCAC for feedback, input and guidance on matters that relate to policies and legislation that affect BC’s agricultural community. The province more or less accepts the representational role the BCAC claims.

For the BCAC, that is a compliment. It has established a relationship with the province over time that makes it what academics would call an “institutional pressure group”. It is a carefully built relationship based on trust, awareness of how government operates, and personal contacts.

Where an institutional pressure group meets the ideal, it plays a valuable role in furthering the Canadian political process.

Such groups can be especially valuable when the province conducts stakeholder consultations.

In the last 2-3 years, the province has consulted with the BCAC on many matters, not the least of which are matters relating to legislative reviews or updates. Such have included the Meat Regulations, Agricultural Waste, the Water Modernization Act, Animal Health and others.

None of these consultations occur for free. There is a cost to sending BCAC representatives to these sessions. There are mileage, meal, hotel and per diem costs. Costs vary depending on where the meetings occur, their frequency, and how far the representative lives away from the meeting site. Most meetings occur in Abbotsford, with some occurring in Victoria and the odd one occurring in Kamloops. For the Community Ag sector, the cost for attending each meeting has been between $500 and $800.

Because these are costs that are over and above the cost of belonging to the BCAC, member organizations whose representatives attend the sessions generally absorb the cost of sending their members.

Not so with the Community Agriculture sector representative. This is because the cost of attending has long been beyond the affordability of the sector.

Until this year, the rest of the BCAC member organizations have absorbed the cost of ensuring the presence of the community perspective at these sessions. Whether it was simple generosity or a realization that for the BCAC to claim to represent the entire agricultural community it needed the presence of the community at these consultations, the fact is, it paid the way.

This practice has ended.

One reason is BCAC budget constraints. There may be others. But, the fact is that unless a way can be found to pay the cost of attending these stakeholder consultations, the voice of the community farm will simply not be heard.

Is having input into the policies, laws and regulations as they may apply directly to you important to you?

How should this be addressed?