British Columbia Agricultural Land Reserve

by Don Malcolm

Most British Columbians, if asked to list the most important legislation to come out of Dave Barrett’s term as premier, would likely choose the formation of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in 1974. Up to the 1970s, BC was losing approximately 6,000 hectares a year of farmland to urban development. The ALR set aside roughly 5% of the province to be reserved for agricultural activity. This precedent setting and far reaching legislation will morethan prove its worth in the years ahead.

 Meanwhile, the harriers, the hungry wolves of municipal and corporate development, are nipping away at the poorly protected flanks of the ALR. The weakening of the ALR began with the establishment of the Agricultural Land Commission and was further compounded with rolling over the process to regional administration authorities. Political decision-making was removed from the process in 1992. 

Recently, controversy has erupted over the exclusion of an Abbotsford property from the ALR for industrial use. This, in the prime food producing Fraser Valley, which offers British Columbia’s best hope for moving toward food sustainability, has piqued the attention and concern of many citizens. However, Pat Bell, BC’s minister of agriculture and lands, is not so concerned. In a column in the Vancouver Sun, Aug. 12, 2005, he states most of the 178.5 hectare property is not under production at this time. Many people would consider that, under production or not, agricultural land is still agricultural land. Is not a sheep still a sheep after its wool is shorn? 

We who live within the confines of a monetary system can understand the corporate and municipal hunger for revenue. Money flows to the corporations through the success of their established business, and to the municipalities as tax revenue from business and individuals. We can realize the benefits to communities from that revenue. We can also understand the hunger for personal monuments, in the form of expansion, within the corporate and political sectors. Unfortunately our species seems to have lost or missed an understanding of the word finite. 

Ronald Wright, in his recent book, A Short History Of Progress, chronicles the rise, the flowering and the crash of civilizations throughout the world, over the last ten thousand years. The people of these civilizations were, like us, human beings with hopes and dreams, perhaps less arrogant and certainly not in possession of the vast store of knowledge available today. Their civilizations collapsed, in most cases because they over-reached the limits of their particular locations. 

The world population is increasing at an alarming rate. Arable land is not. Every land dwelling creature on our planet is soil dependent. We can’t pull carrots out of the sky or grow grain on the rocks of the Canadian Shield. In the years ahead we will be acutely aware of the value of agricultural land and will look back with regret to every atrocity we’ve committed against its protection. 

Whether the ALR is successful or a failure we will realize its value. 

If agricultural land is to be bought and sold it should only be done within the confines of food production. Perhaps public funding should be used to purchase and operate public farms in areas where agriculture is viable. Certainly we must, wherever possible, move away from hauling food over thousands of miles with heavy trucks, crowding our highways, polluting the air we breath and destroying our planet’s protective ozone layer. 

Building big-box stores, factories, arenas, and parking lots or any other structure not related to farming on land that has agricultural potential is embarrassingly stupid. 

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[From WS September/October 2005]

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