Last June, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett was entrusted with conducting a core review of spending and services for the newly elected Liberal government.
In November, the Globe and Mail revealed that the Agricultural Land Commission would come under the control of the Ministry of Agriculture, while the Agricultural Land Reserve would be split into northern and southern zones and authority for the northern zone would be transferred to the Oil and Gas Commission.
After some confusion, it was admitted that the review group would be looking at the commission and the reserve.
The ALR faces several major threats at this time. B.C. Hydro’s proposed $7.9-billion, 1,100-megawatt Site C dam project would flood 5,116 hectares of agricultural land.
In December, the Energy Minister informed B.C. Hydro that if the project is approved in the environmental assessment process, the government will remove the affected lands from the ALR and from the commission’s jurisdiction.
Metro Vancouver is asking the federal government to ban Port Metro Vancouver from encroaching on agricultural land as it seeks to amass more industrial land for port-related expansion. The port authority already owns some agricultural land and may purchase more.
Last November, Delta city council finally caved in to the Southlands project on the former Spetifore Farm and is asking Metro Vancouver to remove that land from its designated Green Zone.
Before and after Pat Pimm was appointed Minister of Agriculture, he wrote to the commission to lobby for withdrawal of agricultural land for rodeo and campground use in Fort St. John.
In 2009, the Fraser Institute released a report calling the commission’s mandate “land use restrictions that rank among Canada’s most severe” and blaming the ALR for spiraling house prices in the Lower Mainland while bemoaning “incalculable loss of property owners’ economic freedom.” The report attacked concerns for increased local food, claiming that citizens have expressed their preference by buying from supermarkets and stretching the theory of comparative advantage to justify importing foreign products.
Agricultural land in our province is under constant threat from speculators who are gambling that it will become easier to get land out of the ALR for various kinds of urban-sprawl developments and food-scarcity denialists who choose to believe that the supermarkets and dollar stores will always be full of cheap food.
On Feb. 16 the Real Estate Foundation of B.C. released an open letter to Premier Christy Clark saying “without protection, farmland can be lost to irreversible uses during an era when British Columbians are becoming increasingly concerned about where their food comes from.”
In my book, most of these threats come under the heading of insatiable demand, which will never stop until either a firm stand is taken in favour of protection of land for future food production or the whole resource has been laid waste.
The greatest threat, and the one that speculators and profiteers rely on, is the phenomenon Jared Diamond calls “creeping normality,” whereby the general public becomes so accustomed to gradual destruction that we stop noticing the devastating impacts of our careless ways.
Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at email@example.com.