North Saanich will ask the Capital Regional District and other municipalities to consider creating a regional farmland trust and acquisition fund.
Sparked by a notice of motion from Mayor Alice Finall in May, District staff presented council with a recommendation on Oct. 6 to ask the CRD and other communities if they would consider acquiring agricultural land and lease it to farmers.
Finall said this request is only the beginning, with the goal of establishing a trust to help support local farming. She added a similar trust already exists within the region — The Farmlands Trust, a not-for-profit organization outside of the municipal scope — which has already expressed an interest in getting involved. The difference in this suggestion, Finall continued, is a broader mandate and a proposed trust with additional buy-in from municipalities in Greater Victoria.
Councillor Celia Stock said she supports this idea, noting Saanich recently bought back land (Panama Flats) to go into the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“It’s good for all parts of Vancouver Island with arable land,” she said.
Coun. Conny McBride said she is concerned with costs associated with the plan, especially to North Saanich, and would want clarification on land maintenance responsibility. While supportive of the idea, McBride said it’s important for ratepayers to know the costs. Coun. Craig Mearns said he’s wary of perceived socialized farming and the costs of the project if the CRD is involved, yet in the final vote he supported it.
The only opposition to the recommendation came from councillor Ted Daly and Dunstan Browne. Browne said he is skeptical about the CRD in the first place, adding giving them carte blanche on something like this needs a second thought.
Daly said he couldn’t support the recommendation because no one else is asking for a regional farmland trust and this action only stems from the mayor’s suggestion back in May. He also noted that the District is in the process of obtaining agricultural land in the deal to obtain most of the former Sandown Race Track property. He said farmers aren’t currently asking to use that land.
“Where’s the demand to farm the land coming out of (the Sandown deal)?” Daly asked. “I just don’t see it.”