It's time for provincial politicians to crack down on the fiddling with the local Agricultural Land Reserve, especially in the Lower Mainland, according to agrologist Wendy Holm. Since fall 2008, the South Coast region alone has processed 25 applications for changes to the ALR, including 3.6 hectares lost to the Meadow Gardens Golf Course in Pitt Meadows.
“We need to reduce this rampant rush to the door,” Holm told the Straight, noting that she supports the B.C. New Democratic Party's election-platform promise to reinstate a “provincial” Agricultural Land Commission and cancel the Liberal-appointed regional panels. “A provincial commission reduces the influence of parochialism, and it's a more consistent approach.”
The NDP's platform, released on April 9, calls for a provincial commission to again manage the ALR. After the Liberals were elected in 2001, the provincial commission was replaced with six regional panels tasked with deciding what stays and what leaves the ALR. Since then, more than 4,000 hectares of prime farmland in the South Coast, Kootenays, Okanagan, and Islands have been removed, according to Holm. It's been replaced with a less desirable 3,000 hectares in northern B.C.
However, Holm said, she was unable to find much other support for farmers or farming in the NDP's platform. Compared to five years ago, she said, that's shortsighted, politically.
“Food security, food sovereignty, food safety: that's top of mind in many communities,” she said. “Traditionally, agriculture is not a top-of-mind issue in an election. But we have a governance crisis when it comes to farming.”
Bruce Ralston, the NDP incumbent in Surrey-Whalley and former agriculture critic, told the Straight the NDP is treating farming as an important campaign issue. The party has promised to reinstate the Buy B.C. program, cancel the carbon tax (which the B.C. Agriculture Council opposed), and allow the Ministry of Agriculture to again directly help producers, among other initiatives.
“I don't think urban people think about food security and food supply the same way producers do,” Ralston said, noting that Corky Evans and others have been touring rural B.C., stumping for the NDP on farming. “But that's changing.”
Ralston also noted that a strong, independent provincial ALC—rather than politicians—should decide whether to cut off applications to alter the ALR in the Lower Mainland.
Despite repeated calls, the B.C. Liberal party did not make a candidate available for an interview by the Straight's deadline. Michael Bose, a South Coast commission panel member, also did not return the Straight 's calls.