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?

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