Food Safety Message -- Keeping It Local

Food Safety Message and Canadians - Keep It Local
72% of Canadians (up 6% since 2007) cite food safety as a concern, favouring locally grown or produced fare over imported items. So says a recent Ipsos-Reid poll that suggests that a majority of Canadians are "very" or "somewhat" concerned about the food they eat. The poll further indicates that "more than two thirds of Canadians believe Canadian food is safer than imported food." Canadians further agree that importing food all over the world is not good for the environment and while Canadian grown or produced food may be more expensive, they are willing to pay for it. "Another 87% agree that they trust food that comes from Canada more than food that comes from abroad, with 85 % of respondents saying they make an effort to buy locally grown and produced food." This poll was conducted through an online survey of over a thousand respondents, between July 23 and 30, 2010.

These results are not a surprise to the North Saanich Food for the Future Society, instrumental in starting up the first North Saanich Farm Market over 3 years ago, with initial support from the Deep Cove Market and now ongoing help from Janet Silman of St. John's United Church. Attendance at the Market, located behind St. John's on West Saanich Road across from Deep Cove Elementary School, averages about 300 people every Saturday morning during the summer, a significant increase compared with early years. Not only is attendance steady, reports indicate another significant increase in the number of Market vendors offering for sale everything from free range eggs and local lamb to fresh fish, beef, honey, home baking and, of course, fresh produce, most of it organic.

The quality and variety of fresh produce and specialty items is impressive as local growers provide from their gardens large and small. The North Saanich Farm Market is also a local pioneer of winter produce, with the opening of its first winter farm market this past year. The North Saanich Farm Market, with its positive and creative atmosphere, truly reflects a community that embraces local food production and supports North Saanich's strong commitment to agriculture through local farming.

The Market also provides a great venue for the annual Flavour Trail and I hope that residents will attend this weekend's festivities, beginning with the North Saanich Farm Market opening at 9:00 AM. We also know that what keeps farms economically viable, no matter how big or small, is their continued ability to reach consumers. The press coverage for this weekend's events has been terrific and a big thanks goes out to media who have featured the Flavour Trail, including the Times Colonist, Monday Magazine and the CBC morning radio program, "On the Island."

I believe that without support of local media, growers and farmers cannot get their message out as effectively to the people who need to hear it. The success story of the North Saanich Farm Market and the annual Flavour Trail deserves celebration so straw hats off to all those, including local restaurants and wineries, who work so hard to make it happen week after week during the summer growing season and on a periodic basis during the winter.

"Happy Flavour Trails to you!"

Too Liberal with BC's Farmland

A Vancouver Province editorial about a new report by Nathan Pachal, titled "A Snapshot of the Agricultural Land Reserve from 2000-2009 in the south of Fraser," and the report itself reveal that the biggest culprit in the losses of ALR lands, particularly on the Lower Mainland (Delta, Barnston Island, Township and City of Langley and Surrey), is the B.C. Government through its Ministry of Transportation. Research found that "the provincial government is responsible for 72.8% of all the land in this region that has either been excluded from the ALR or paved over for transportation use."

What is equally disturbing to me about this report is that apparently the "hard numbers" and other detailed information could only be accessed through a lengthy freedom of information process. Until the process kicked in, it's alleged that Mr. Pachal's efforts to get more information from the BC government "were met by bureaucratic doors slamming in his face." I understand that Mr. Pachal, co-founder of the Langley-based South Fraser on Trax group, a non-profit that studies regional transportation and highlights related issues, writes that "While it may appear that private development is responsible for the erosion of the ALR in the south of Fraser, it is actually the public sector (that's you and me!) that has removed the most land for future farm use in the last decade."

The sub-region is part of the Metro Vancouver regional district on which Mr. Pachal's report focuses and reportedly "accounts for about 70 per cent of all Metro acreage within the ALR. Metro itself produces 27 per cent of B.C.'s total gross farm receipts from primary crops such as field vegetables, berries, greenhouse vegetables and ornamental plants." According to the Province editorial and the Pachal report, the roughly 73% loss of ALR "compares with just under 23 per cent by the private sector and nearly five per cent by local governments." The report further states that a "total [of] 264 hectares of land [or approximately 650 acres] in the sub-region have been lost to farming over the period and about two-thirds or 175 hectares [approximately 430 acres] was devoted to government transportation projects."

The editorial quotes Mr. Pachal as being surprised by these stats and, frankly, so am I. I also understand that Mr. Pachal "found that, under its legislation, the Agricultural Land Commission doesn't categorize lands these transportation projects occupy as being excluded from the ALR." "Instead," he learned, "they're recorded as 'eliminated from farm use,' which gives the impression of more land being farmed than is the case."

The results of Mr. Pachal's study of the south of Fraser sub-region should concern all North Saanich and Peninsula residents. While some of us had always assumed it was developers and primarily the private sector who pillaged farmland, they are apparently not the major offenders, if Mr. Pachal's findings are correct. This is significant information in light of a recent Ipsos-Reid poll that shows of those Canadians surveyed, over 70 per cent are concerned about their food security.

Why then would the B.C. government put ALR in one of the most fertile areas in the world, the Fraser Basin, at risk by appropriating arable land for transportation projects? Of course we need transportation routes and infrastructure but, as the Province newspaper's editorial concludes, "Certainly pavement is important, but affordable fresh food is fundamental." Perhaps it's true when some farmers, agrologists and environmentalists proclaim that we are in the fight of our lives to save farmland and protect our ability to grow our own food. Shouldn't governments help us to win this battle?

For more details about this issue, please visit

A Matter of Public Service

The Times Colonist (TC) editorial titled "Public service, not free money" (August 10, 2010) reflects, in part, a sentiment that I have always shared -- that the essence of the work of an elected municipal Council member should be service to the public, emphasizing a higher form of volunteerism and not focused on self-service, as appears to be the case for some recent BC municipal Councils reportedly voting themselves healthy raises (in one case, an increase of 76% to the Mayor's salary alone).

These generous awards to the stipends of locally elected officials are particularly offensive to a tax-paying public that has weathered serious recession impacts, a new consumer tax, challenging government cutbacks to public services and programs and little or no increases to the public sector (wages or positions) or to organizations and agencies who also rely on the taxpayer for funding. In fact, B.C.'s public sector wage increases have been consistently in the 0% to 2.0 % range for many years. Further, B.C.'s minimum wage, seemingly now administered by Scrooge himself, is apparently the lowest across the country, an issue that I believe should be addressed without further delay but, that's another story for another time.

Stipend increases for municipally elected officials were also the subject of heated debate in North Saanich about three years ago. It was my first Council term and I remember when the former Mayor of North Saanich struck a Task Force to review income levels of the Mayor and Councilors, despite what I understood was a recommendation just a few months earlier from an appointed residents' group suggesting an increase consistent with the cost of living (COLA). In the end, the Mayor's new Task Force suggested, for example, that a 32% increase to the Mayor's stipend should be made (if granted, I calculated that the former Mayor would have likely been the highest paid Mayor on the Peninsula). While a lesser increase for Councilors was also recommended, the former Mayor and his supporters appeared to lobby hard for the increase to the Mayor's stipend, citing in part the need to keep up with other municipalities, stressing that the job was more demanding.

I strongly disagreed (as did some of my other Council colleagues at the time) with what we perceived as an attitude of entitlement, arguing that such large increases, especially for the Mayor's position, were out of line and unfair to North Saanich taxpayers. I also did not agree, as some others argued, that compared to other municipalities, North Saanich was falling behind. Nor did I agree with the final argument that by substantially raising stipends, we would attract "younger" people to elected office. I believed then (and still do) that the issue of attracting younger people to public office has less to do with money and more to do with their available time --- the majority of younger people I know are busy raising families, working full-time and volunteering in their communities, making it difficult for them to take on the additional duties and responsibilities of an elected official whose schedule most often involves daytime and evening hours (in the end, more modest increases were approved).

As the TC editorial points out, the nature of Council work is part-time and, in my experience, the amount of time devoted to the job can vary depending on one's level of commitment, size and make-up of community and complexity of issues. My understanding from those who served during the 1990's, however, is that the work has definitely changed since then and has become more complex, particularly since 2001, due in part to greater provincial government downloading to local governments. Nevertheless, in my opinion, time commitments for the average Council member cannot yet be compared to a full-time private or public sector job. And while some will argue that the annual stipend is not enough, the TC Editorial states, "...increasingly, municipal councils in B.C. seem to view elected office as just another form of places self-interest ahead of the public interest." The editorial adds " raises personal ambition above the needs of the community. And it invites the rise of lifetime politicians who will do anything to stay in power and perpetuate their income."

In my nearly 5 years as an elected official, I am pleased to say that I have met very few municipal Council members who would fit that rather jaded description. In my view, most of my Council colleagues across the CRD behave and believe in working as "servants of the public," keeping always the public's best interests at heart. They dedicate long hours to the role of Councilor and longer hours to the role of Mayor. North Saanich is lucky, for example, to have elected a Mayor and Council majority whom I believe reflect the very best of what service to the public means.

As the TC Editorial concludes, many of us continue to believe that "the traditional service-based approach [to the work of local government] is more healthy." While the TC editorial is highly critical and makes some valid points, I believe that "whopping increases" are still not the norm. I do believe that we need "broader guidelines that would apply to all municipalities" so that the tax paying public can be confident that the quality of local government they receive is not tied simply to the amount of remuneration that elected officials believe they deserve. As altruistic as it may sound, holding public office at the local level is a matter of public service. We are, at the end of the day, "servants of the public" and as local governments, closest to our constituents.

Creeping Development Not Unique to Our Area

I was interested to read this week in the British newspaper The Guardian, an article titled "The Creeping Spread of Built-Up in Britain." It indicates that "thousands of British wildlife habitats, including refuges for some of the country's rarest species and sites..." recognized the world over for their significance to the eco- system/nature, are threatened by development." For those of us fortunate enough to have traveled to Britain and to have spent time in the countryside, I had always admired the British for their land use planning, based partly on history and partly on modern land use principles, that I believed successfully preserved rural Britain. Until now it seems.

I first visited England in 1972 and drove 2,400 miles in 3 weeks, much to the astonishment of the car rental agency. As I drove from the South Coast of England all the up way to Ullapool in Western Scotland (and back again), I loved how the rural landscape was dotted by small, compact villages, with great tracts of green and sometimes remote spaces in between. I also loved the seaside communities, where beaches and waterfront were completely open to the public and one could walk as far as the eye could see. It was true, Britain was the quaint, bucolic and magic country that I had imagined, a place steeped in ancient history that somehow had managed to preserve its landmarks, heritage sites and unique landscapes through centuries of growth and development.

Now it appears that "land-grabs, from small gardens to major housing estates, ports and roads, is the Guardian launches a project called Piece by Piece, exposing the creeping [development] threat to Britain's natural world."

Sound familiar? It should because, as you many of you are aware, it appears to be the same reality that I believe threatens places such as Central and North Saanich, other rural and natural areas in the CRD and Southern Vancouver Island generally. Johnathon Porritt, one of the UK's most prominent environmental experts, observes that in Britain "The [government] is intent on setting aside some of the restrictions and constraints in the current planning process in a way that will promote local decision-making at the expense of environmental safeguards."

Again, sound all too familiar? It's apparent to me that over the past 10 years, for example, with ongoing devolution of authority by the BC government to local governments, land use planning and decision-making seem to be more fractured and less focused on protection and conservation. There appear to be so many competing interests, influences and downright lobbying in some cases, that government bodies and land use policies designed to protect habitat seem more vulnerable to this constant pressure. And then there is the money. We know that there are huge profits to be made through land development.

In Britain, the figures related to threats posed by development are collected by the Wildlife Trusts Federation, which provided "the most comprehensive review...[and] last year asked for 4,900 projects to be changed or stopped. The Trusts reported that "these were the most damaging schemes [selected] after reviewing 83,000 planning applications." Threats to birds, wildlife and woodlands in Britain represent approximately 2,500 different development projects being fought by a number of conservation organizations throughout the country. It is also reported by Britain's Garden Organic that "one in seven homes in Britain were being built on 'residential' land - mostly gardens...these small patches of land, which sustain wildlife in cities and provide vital corridors for species to reach the countryside, calculates that between 2006 and 2016, a quarter of a million gardens will be concreted and bricked over."

The article concludes that "Natural England, the government countryside agency, this year reported that more than two species a year in England are becoming extinct, and hundreds more are at risk of disappearing. The agency lists development as the second biggest cause of loss, after vast monoculture farms and the widespread use of chemicals." In a country where history is centuries' old and the preservation of tradition is paramount, it is ironic that the one thing Britain seems unable to preserve now is its natural habitats, rural lands and wildlife.

It is my hope, after reading this article, that British Columbians, especially communities at the local level, will learn from land use planning mistakes and work together with agencies, organizations and other governments/jurisdictions to stem the losses to our natural world as those now reported to be occurring in Britain.

To read this article in its entirety, please visit the Manchester Guardian website on this blog.