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Farmer Richard Bullock in Kelowna during the apple harvest September 13, 2012. The B.C. government replaced the outspoken chair of Agricultural Land Commission six months before his term was due to expire.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Richard Bullock, the outspoken chair of B.C.'s Agricultural Land Commission, says he was fired in a brief phone call Thursday shortly before the government issued a statement saying he'd been replaced.

Mr. Bullock had been in the job for five years and his term wasn't due to expire until November.

He said in an interview he would have liked to serve another year because of all the pressures currently facing the commission, an independent tribunal that is responsible for preserving agricultural land.

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"Protecting agricultural land is important work and I was trying to keep that going as long as I could," Mr. Bullock said.

But the government had other ideas.

"I got a 30-second phone call … It was a short conversation. They are headed in a different direction and thought they needed new leadership," Mr. Bullock said.

He didn't know what new direction the government plans, but speculated it has to do with making it easier to take farmland out of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

"Maybe there's going to be a loosening up of things out there and they might have felt I might not have been onside," he said. "I think we've got all sorts of things coming at us. First of all [is the pressure] to do all sorts of things on agricultural land that have absolutely nothing [to do] with agriculture and a lot to do with everything else … And up there in the northeast, there's huge issues with the oil and gas plays going on, on agricultural land."

Mr. Bullock said he had no regrets about speaking out in defence of the commission, as he did frequently over the past year while the government pursued controversial policy changes that many critics saw as a strategy to strip the commission of much of its powers.

"From one point of view, getting fired for doing your job is maybe a badge of honour," he said. "I'm leaving this job with my head held high."

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The government announced his replacement with a press release that made no mention of Mr. Bullock by name, instead focusing on the new chair, Frank Leonard, a former tire-store manager who has served as president of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce and is a former mayor of Saanich.

"Under Leonard's leadership Saanich Council continued to build on the region's agriculture heritage, with policies supporting local food production in both rural and urban areas," said the government statement.

NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham said the sudden dismissal of Mr. Bullock "further weakens" the ALC. "By firing him the B.C. Liberals are continuing their war on B.C.'s agricultural land," Ms. Popham said. "Bullock is a true champion for agriculture, who is respected by all sectors of the agriculture industry for his expertise and fair-mindedness."

Ms. Popham said the ALC is facing a "critical time" because the government is about to release new regulations that will make it harder to protect farm land.

"By replacing B.C.'s agricultural watchdog with someone with no background in agriculture, the B.C. Liberals are making it clear that their attack on the ALR has only just begun," she said.

Brent Mansfield, director of the B.C. Food Systems Network, said Mr. Bullock's voice will be missed.

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"It's a sad day for agriculture in B.C. Richard is a strong advocate and I can see why he was seen as a thorn in the government's side," said Mr. Mansfield. "But I think he stick-handled fairly, through challenging times."

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