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Gutting the ALR

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Raeside's take on the ALR proposal...

Raeside’s take on the ALR proposal…

Wow, what a week in agriculture news this has been. For those who didn’t follow, Bill 24 would fundamentally change the nature of the Agricultural Land Reserve. In the interior and the north, the bill more or less does away with the land reserve, mainly to facilitate energy projects and possibly to score some political points with local power brokers. On the Island and Lower Mainland, the reserve is merely weakened, but the result may be just the same: no-holds-barred development.

Sure, the ALR isn’t perfect; no legislation ever is, since it is based on compromise and often, on a search for the lesser of two evils. The government did try to soften the opposition by lobbing a few choice pieces at the media; for instance, this piece in the Globe and Mail repeating the story of a Kootenay farmer hoping to see changes, or this in the Castlegar News about the lack of flexibility of the Agricultural Land Commission.

But pretty soon, the coverage has given way to remarkably negative feedback. There were articles detailing the opposition by the Agricultural Land Commission Chair calling the proposal unfair; the changes have been called misguided (David Connell, Vancouver Sun), suspicious (Les Leyne, Times Colonist), irreparable (Jack Knox, Times Colonist), a threat to food security (Adam Olsen in The Tyee, and Kelly Baldwin in The Province). There are plenty of other articles, all worthy of attention, on this issue: a piece by Corky Evans, a review of NDP position of protecting the ALR and increasing support for farmers, a plea to protect the ALR by the BC Food Network (also see their analysis here), a spoof of minister Bennett’s pronouncements about local food in the Kootenays. Threats to agriculture in Surrey and Delta made the news. Yesterday (Monday) a protest in Victoria was prominent in the media; and today, what is possibly the most damning evaluation by thirteen land use experts and prominent agrologists was splashed over the pages of the Vancouver Sun.

And, of course, bloggers got in the act: notably, Gordon Price summarized the potential impacts for the Lower Mainland, Wendy Holm discussed the changes in the context of the Peace River and chimed in with “the emperor has no clothes”, both posts well worth the read as always, and political blogger BC Iconoclast contributed a very digestible deconstruction of the act.

But I mostly want to write as an echo chamber for some of the comments circulating in social media, because some of these are quite eye-opening. Since these comments are among friends, I’ll keep their names to myself – suffice to say that these are impromptu, heart-felt comments.

  • I keep having deja vu moments this week. Flashbacks to 1982-83 in the Columbia River valley where the former Columbia-Shuswap regional district wanted to spot remove ALR lands for development. The RD planner at the time strongly supported removal because to paraphrase him and the RD director “you can’t grown a carrot on these lands, they are no good for agriculture” blah blah. blah blah. We organized the Columbia River Agriculture Preservation Group. Note of recommendation to everyone: create a name that forms an acronym media are reluctant to use (CRAP) and you get full name coverage that takes up radio and newsprint space. We sent carrots to the legislature in the mail, and wheeled 100 pound squashes grown on those lands into the public meetings. This is the same guy who [now] works for the Agricultural Land Commission as a regional planner…If anything, the ALR boundaries need to be EXPANDED to recognize changing agricultural technologies (more land is capable & suitable for different types of food producing than 40 years ago), climate change, food security etc.
  •   Don’t forget the corruption angle. That director who pushed the removal through also [owned] a farm he planned to and did turn into a subdivision. Yes, and then gets rewarded by Socred cronies. I am not mentioning his name; he slagged us enough in “his” newspaper to last me a lifetime. Nevertheless for anyone else that wants to learn a little more about the BS that goes on with ALR applications here’s the link http://www.alc.gov.bc.ca/application_status/Docs/37712sr.pdf
  • We just did a quick tally. Three of us own [an organic food] business. All together we hire around 18 people each summering. Of the several we have mentored in the past few years, at least 20 are now farming full time, all over BC. It is happening. Young people want desperately to farm. Please pass on to Clark’s government that we need government support… Or at least for government to stay the hell out of the way and not change the rules on us.
  • My wife and I just moved to BC from Alberta because we were excited about the potential for organic marketing here in southern BC. We have been producing and marketing grass finished beef, pastured pork and poultry for 10 years and brought our little road show to BC because this province has the soil, water, climate and markets that favor farmers like us. To be here 7 months and see people trying to dismantle the ALR is very disappointing.
  • The best way to support BC farmers is with opportunities for “value added” farm products…A buy-local provincial procurement strategy is long overdue. If senior government institutions were required to purchase local produce it would help rebuild the agricultural sector in BC. It would increase the critical mass needed to support local processing. It would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Local procurement is a major part of Metro Vancouvers’ Food Security Strategy but local government does not have enough facilities using food to make a difference. Schools and hospitals are under provincial jurisdiction.
  • Everything Pat Pimm and Bill Bennett wanted in their leaked memos has been accomplished. By amending the ALC Act to include economic, cultural and social values, regional and community planning objectives and other prescribed considerations the ALR, as we know it, in Zone 2 no longer exists. It is now a Land Reserve, not an Agricultural Land Reserve. As a Land Reserve, it can accommodate the flooding of the Peace River for the Site C Dam, 600 acres for urban expansion around Fort St John, 200 acres at Summerland and, yes, even a rodeo. In Zone 1, “local” panels are back. Whenever the government wants to weaken the ALR they appoint local panels that are easily influenced by local lobbying and the ALR cuts continue. Ironically, we [had] just got rid of the local panel system under the Campbell government.

But I want to leave the last word to MLA Lana Popham (also written as Facebook comments):

Tonight I arrived back home after a day from the legislature that I will never forget. Tabling a Private Members Bill with my colleagues Adrian Dix and Nicholas Simons was one of the most meaningful days I have had in politics. I got into politics because of agriculture and growing food, and to be part of a Bill that represents the ideas I believe in with all my heart was incredible.
Now that I have arrived home I can’t help but think about the week to come. Next week we will probably face one of the most important days for agriculture in our Province. It will be the day that Bill 24 gets debated. Bill 24 is the Bill the BC Liberals are putting forward to destroy the ALR.
I traveled the Province for 4 years as agriculture Critic in my first term and I can tell you honestly that I met farmers and food producers in every region that were amazing in every way. They were producing everything and knew they could produce even more with the right policies in place.
I met a lot of you on my travels and I think about all of you often. You showed me that rural BC and urban BC are not so different when it comes to food. There is a wave that has washed over our province, a wave of interest in wanting food grown in BC and a wave of interest in growing food in BC. All we really need in a plan.
We are going to have the fight of our lives next week as we try and save the ALR.

Lana Popham on a cattle farm

Lana Popham on a cattle farm

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Written by enviropaul

April 8, 2014 at 12:21 pm

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