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B.C. farm tax panel co-chair replaced, again

British Columbia’s panel to review what constitutes a “farm” for municipal tax purposes must again replace its co-chair at about a third of the way through its assignment.

Okanagan-Westside MLA Rick Thorpe, who was named co-chair in July, has stepped down from the provincial Farm Assessment Review Panel due to personal health reasons, the province said in a release Tuesday.

John Rustad, MLA for Prince George-Omineca, replaces Thorpe as co-chair. The panel’s other co-chair, Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, was appointed in February.

Rustad brings “a solid background in land-use issues and a familiarity with central B.C. farming practices to his new role,” said Kevin Krueger, the minister responsible for BC Assessment, in the release.

Rustad, a Liberal MLA since 2005, worked primarily in the forest industry, managing geographic information systems (GIS) for forest inventories and related projects, before entering politics. He owns a woodlot license and has been involved in land development projects.

Thorpe will still have an advisory role on the panel during the review process, Krueger said. The panel began its public consultation phase in mid-September and continues through November. Its next public meeting is at the Sandman Inn in Cranbrook on Oct. 6.

Thorpe, an accountant with a background in the brewing and Okanagan grape and wine industries, was previously the provincial minister for small business and revenue but was shuffled out of cabinet in June, before his appointment to the panel.

Thorpe had been named to the panel to replace Leonard’s original co-chair, Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom, who had to step down when he was named minister for community development in the June cabinet shuffle.

The panel was formally launched in February amid controversy, specifically in Saanich, over a reassessment of farm properties that reclassified many as partly residential — thus taxing them at a higher rate than strictly “farm” property.

The panel’s role is to hold a “provincewide, comprehensive review of farm assessment regulations in order to streamline rules and procedures, while ensuring their fairness and transparency.”

Rustad said Tuesday that “by working together with our agriculture community we can find fair and equitable solutions to support and enhance agriculture in British Columbia.”

The panel in June made a few interim recommendations, including suspension of any further large-scale farm classification projects by BC Assessment until the panel’s report is received and decisions are made.

The panel’s final report and recommendations to the province are due July 31, 2009, for consideration in the 2010 assessment roll.

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