When the atmospheric river devastated the Fraser Valley in November of 2021, Pam Alexis became more deeply connected with the region’s agricultural sector.
In the wake of the flooding, the Abbotsford-Mission MLA met with various entities from different levels of government and emergency management, among others. The group met daily for three months, then weekly and bi-weekly before halting regular meetings recently.
“I don’t take it lightly — it was an extremely impactful experience,”Alexis said. “When you’re so deeply connected with an emergency like that, you are immersed in the issues that the growers — and in particular the farmers — went through.”
A new role
After Premier David Eby’s cabinet shuffle earlier in December, Alexis is tasked with managing the agriculture sector as the new minister of agriculture and food.
“I’m excited and honoured to be in this position for a number of reasons,” Alexis said. “One, I get to represent the Fraser Valley at the cabinet table, which is just such a wonderful opportunity for all of us. Second of all, I have to advocate for all of the farmers and growers in British Columbia and help them be more successful.”
Alexis says her experience with the Fraser Valley community and connections with the agriculture sector over the past several years makes her a good fit for the role.
“I have been in the Valley for over 25 years, I have been an advocate in so many different ways for the community and after I became MLA, I was representing the interests of Abbotsford and Mission and certainly understood the plight of the farmer and the grower and the limitations [that come] with all of that,” Alexis said.
The previous minister for agriculture and food, Lana Popham was named minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport in the Dec. 7 cabinet shuffle.
Effect on Abbotsford-Mission MLA Duties
Alexis served as Mission’s mayor from 2018-2020 before she was elected as MLA for Abbotsford-Mission as a member of the BC NDP party. With another transition into a new role, Alexis expects to be in familiar terrain.
“Certainly it’s going to be busier, but luckily I have incredible staff,” she said. “The job is a busy one but I will endeavour to serve and that’s really what I’ve done for a number of years in different capacities. I’m no stranger to managing time.”
On Fridays, Alexis will set aside time for Abbotsford-Mission constituents when she’s in Victoria. She says she will work closely with teams in both her ministry and constituency to make sure she is where she needs to be.
“I’m used to juggling a whole lot and had to learn to juggle both Mission and Abbotsford’s needs. Now I’m just throwing in another ball, so I’m not concerned,” she said. “Of course, I love the Fraser Valley and always feel good when I’m home but it’s an opportunity to serve the rest of British Columbia as well.”
Agriculture and food mandate
The mandate letter for Alexis from Eby provided the new minister with both active goals from the predecessor and fresh assignments. Chief among the mandate’s goals is the improvement of climate preparedness and resiliency to wildfires, flooding, and extreme heat.
“We need to be ready for these kinds of events because we just don’t know when the next one will be,” Alexis said. “We have to be prepared, as far as the Fraser Valley is concerned, and look at dike improvements… and to figure out how to make the farmer more resilient.”
According to the letter, the mandate for Alexis will be to support farmers, ranchers, and seafood producers in their work, to ensure food security for British Columbians through policy, to use agricultural land wisely, increase production, and add processing capacity. She is also tasked with building the export sector by promoting food produced in BC, creating jobs and growing economic sustainability.
The expansion of organizations such as Grow BC, Buy BC and Feed BC is mandated to bolster business growth and food security. Alexis is entrusted to open nine new food hubs across BC.
“Food security is top of mind,” Alexis said. “Just average people are concerned about food security and again I think the atmospheric river really illuminated their vulnerabilities.”
The minister is expected to usher in several new councils and programs, including the launch of the B.C. Indigenous Advisory Council on Agriculture and Food, the Extreme Weather Preparedness for Agriculture Program and a Minister’s Advisory Group on Regenerative Agriculture.
“We’re looking at different practices [like] Agritech and what we are using to grow food that doesn’t make sense,” she said. “There are possibilities with the Agritech sector with innovations, reducing the need for sunlight and bringing things inside and using ultraviolet light, that kind of thing.”
Alexis says the balance between supporting agriculture and supporting the environment will be a challenge in her tenure as minister.
“We’re looking at producing food closer to the source and trying to reduce carbon emissions,” Alexis said. “These are the sort of issues that I’ll be needing to tackle.”
“I’m just really hoping to get around and visit as many farms and as many voters as possible in the summertime when we’re not in session. I’m looking forward to learning more and more about British Columbia.”