In a guest column last week, Lana Popham, the Opposition critic for agriculture, expressed concern over the potential commercialization of genetically modified apples.
As agriculture minister, I understand those concerns and intend to remain active on this issue. However, the critic and I have taken distinctly different approaches to actually dealing with this issue. Whereas, Ms. Popham prefers to be confrontational and make wrongful accusations against our government, we are taking a more productive approach to address these concerns.
Former minister of agriculture Don McRae and I have both taken industry and public concerns over the GMO apple proposal directly to the federal government, as it is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that will ultimately decide on the matter.
Yet, we have always been actively engaged. We have spoken at length with the federal agriculture minister, while my staff have done likewise with their counterparts in Ottawa.
I believe that having a rational, respectful discussion with those who have jurisdiction on this issue is far more likely to garner favourable results than simply grandstanding at home for the already-converted.
Fostering a mutually-respectful relationship with the federal government has paid dividends in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars for B.C. farmers, helping them develop an innovative, cutting-edge industry.
This strong working relationship between our governments has proven to be the best course of action time and again. Working collaboratively with representatives, such as Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan, has facilitated successful co-operation to the benefit of our constituents.
Just last week, we jointly announced $4.1 million for water infrastructure in Lake Country; we are near the final stages of a new jointly funded $77-million highway from Oyama to Winfield; and, we are jointly providing the B.C. Tree Fruit Co-operative with $2.7 million to upgrade their the plant in Lake Country. Indeed since 2001, capital investment in the Central Okanagan has been five times higher than during the NDP years in the 1990s.
This strong relationship also allows us to achieve things beyond providing funding. For example, both levels of government, along with industry, are currently working together to get our cherries and blueberries into the Chinese market. I am optimistic weÃll see these products in China in the near future.
Our government is taking decisive action on areas where we do have direct control to help our tree fruit industry. For example, our $2-million replant program supports growers who want to take advantage of the marketplace's demand for high-value tree fruit varieties. Similarly, our $2-million Buy Local program helps businesses and organizations launch or expand their own marketing campaigns. This is an example of government and the agrifoods industry working together to promote local foods and generate economic benefits for B.C.Ãs food producers and communities.
A year ago, we launched our agrifoods strategy, which aims to grow B.C.Ãs agriculture industry from $10.5 billion in 2011 to $14 billion-a-year by 2017. Continuing the good working relationships weÃve established with industry, as well as our partners in the community and in Ottawa, is an important piece to achieving this goal.
Like many local residents and the tree fruit industry, I share these same concerns about GMO apples. I have been, and intend to remain, engaged and active on this issue. I am committed to speaking for the industry and sharing our concerns, not only as Minister of Agriculture, but also as a local MLA and member of the community.
In the end, this will be a federal government decision, but I will continue to pursue our interests through open dialogue and rational discussion with our partners in Ottawa.
MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country
and minister of agriculture