Richmond councillor Harold Steves should be a celebratory mood.
It’s his 77th birthday today (May 29). But it’s turning out to be not exactly a happy day.
“It’s terrible,” Steves told the Straight half-jokingly by phone. “This is my birthday. What a birthday! They’re screwing my day a lot.”
Steves was referring to the B.C. Liberal government. MLAs from the governing party are expected to invoke closure today on debate regarding Bill 24, or the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, 2014.
The ALC is an independent agency in charge of preserving the Agricultural Land Reserve, which is a provincial zone where agriculture is priority.
Established by a B.C. NDP government during the 1970s, the ALR is part of the living legacy of Steves.
“I was there all the way through,” recalled Steves, a New Democrat MLA at that time and one of the fathers of the agricultural reserve.
According to Steves, Bill 24 will accomplish what previous governments failed to do.
“They’ve tried to modify the Agricultural Land Reserve and to reduce its effectiveness for 41 years since we passed it and they’ve never been able to gut it, and they can never figure out how,” he said. “And they finally figured out. And that’s what Bill 24 is all about.”
The reserve is 4.7 million hectares, about five percent of B.C.’s land base.
Bill 24 seeks to create two zones. Zone 1 for Vancouver Island, South Coast and Okanagan will essentially be status quo. In Zone 2 for Interior, Kootenay and the North, there will be more room to allow non-agriculture uses.
According to government figures, about 89 percent of the agricultural zone is located in the Interior, Kootenay and the North regions.
“It’s a way of gutting the Agricultural Land Reserve and pretending it’s still there,” Steves said.
The second reading of Bill 24 comes six days after Metro Vancouver approved an amendment of the regional district’s growth strategy to allow residential and commercial development of a Tsawwassen-area farmland in Delta, known as Southlands.
On May 23, Metro board cast a weighted vote of 93-31 in favour of the development.
Vancouver civic officials on the board and Steves voted against this.
Among those who approved the plan to develop the former Spetifore farm was Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, chair of Metro’s regional planning and agriculture committee.
“That was a surprise,” Steves said about Corrigan’s vote. Steves is the vice-chair of the district’s regional planning and agriculture committee.
Steves recalled that Metro as well as Burnaby city staff recommended the rejection of the Southlands development because it could set a precedent.
“I’m going to be holding Derek [Corrigan] to the fire on this one because when all these new applications start coming up, those that voted in favour in favour of Southlands are going to have to fight to keep them down,” Steves said.
Steves will try to have as much fun as he can today. “I’ve got 80, I think, on my Facebook site already, everyone is saying sorry about Bill 24. Happy birthday.”