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When is 1.997 not less than 2?

…when the Agricultural Land Commission decides to ignore basic math.

Greater than/less than is simple math we all learn as children. For those of us in the Atari generation, we learned by thinking of Pac-Man – that guy will always eat the larger number.

So we know that 5 > 3 – five is greater than three. And that 18 < 36 – eighteen is less than thirty-six.

Pac-Man always eats the bigger number.

Unfortunately, the bureaucrats at the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) must have skipped this particular math lesson. They just spent thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting in court to try and prove that 1.997 is NOT less than 2.

Back in 2016, the Township of Langley approved a four-lot subdivision for a 1.997 acre parcel of land on 248th Street. By being less than two acres, and on its own certificate of title since before the Agricultural Land Reserve was formed in 1972, the property is exempt from ALC rules.

Two separate surveyors went out and affirmed that the property was, indeed, 1.997 acres – less than the magical two acres the ALC needs to get involved.

But the Commission claimed otherwise, saying the property “should be considered to be two acres because it was more than 1.995 acres.”

Essentially, the ALC wanted it rounded up to two and forbade any subdivision.

The landowner, Kathryn Guse, had to go to court to prove that 1.997 was indeed less than 2. Her argument was simple: “The actual size of Lot 29 is less than 2 acres and… the land contained within it was therefore not subject to the land use restrictions.”

Last week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Sewell agreed with her: “The Commission’s decision and Policy are unreasonable.”

“The ordinary and grammatical meaning of s. 23(1) is plain and unambiguous,” the judge ruled. “Land consisting of a single parcel of less than 2 acres shown on a title registered in the Land Registry office on December 21, 1972 is not subject to the land use restrictions under the ALCA.”

“As indicated above, the Commission gave no consideration to the plain meaning of the words.”

Isn’t that the real problem with red tape? Why is it so difficult for bureaucrats to consider the plain meaning of words?

For Kathryn Guse, the ALC’s dogged disbelief that 1.997 is indeed less than 2 has meant a two-year delay in her plans to subdivide her property. They have unfairly infringed on her rights to use her property as she sees fit.

They have also cost her thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees – money the ALC should pay back.

A lot of business organizations battle red tape and unnecessary regulation, and rightfully so. Government agencies must be held accountable for what they demand and for what they impose on citizens. One hopes the ALC has learned its lesson about “the plain meaning of words.”

As for Mrs. Guse, you were dead right: 1.997 is less than 2. I’m sorry your government missed that math lesson.

Jordan Bateman has a long history of public policy work, championing small business and fiscal responsibility. Currently the Director of Communications for the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA), Jordan also served six years as the B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and was a two-term Langley Township Councillor