By Van Andruss —
The original ALR, or Agricultural Land Reserve, came into effect in 1973 under the influence of Dave Barrett and the NDP government. It was obvious to the Barrett government that prime farmland in BC was vanishing at an alarming rate under the pressure of “development,” for instance, 6,000 hectares per year in the Okanagan and the Lower Mainland.
The ALR altogether only amounts to 5% of BC’s land base, covering approximately 4.7 million hectares (47,000 sq. km) on both private and public lands. Some contain thousands of hectares; some are quite small.
ALR parcels could be withdrawn by application to the governing Agricultural Land Commission, and since the original setting aside, 40,000 applications have been made and another 40,000 hectares have been lost.
On May 29 of this year, the BC legislature pushed through Bill-24, amending the Agricultural Land Commission Act with the intent of easing the rules, changing its structure and governance, and opening it up for uses other than farming, ranching, and fruit growing. These changes were supervised, we are told, by Bill Bennett and its outlines are summarized below.
The Land Reserve is divided into two Zones. Zone 1 is comprised of southwest BC (Fraser Valley, Fraser River Delta), the Okanagan, and Vancouver Island, where existing regulations will remain in place, though under unrelenting pressure from Vancouver area’s suburban sprawl.
Zone 2 includes the rest of BC’s Reserves in the north and in the interior of BC, regarded by Bill Bennett as less productive and therefore to be treated more “flexibly.”
Zone 2 amounts to 90% of the total Reserve, while Zone 1 is only 10% of the total.
Incidentally, the original setting aside was executed coarsely and in haste from topographical maps according to elevation. The intent was to make a more fine-grained inquiry as time went on, but the work never took place.
The quality of agricultural land is classified by numbers, the highest quality being the smallest number. Bill Bennett’s assessments to the contrary, the land in Zone 2 is not predominantly poor agricultural land. In fact, according to an agricultural committee struck in 1978, there is more 1 to 4 class land in Zone 2 than in Zone 1; that is, 85% of the land in Zone 2 is class 1 to 4 (2 million hectares) compared to only 15% in Zone 1 (350, 000 hectares).
Under the new legislation, the six designated regions are to be governed, not by an Agricultural Land Commission, but by panels consisting of at least two persons, so that each region will be treated individually.
The original Bill changing the rules caused a furor, particularly among those concerned with food production. Subsequently, the Bill was somewhat amended, yet remains very different from its original intent under the Barrett government, and is anything but consensual.
The majority of people in BC were attached to the non-revised ALR. As with the recent Bill-38 and Bill-45, sweeping aside environmental inquiry and regulations, this present Bill was rammed through without formal public assessment and without a proper scientific basis.
We might reasonably wonder why such haste to change the ground-rules.
One likely reason is to clear away obstacles to the proposed Site C dam, the third dam on the Peace River that the Neo-Liberal government is ambitious to build. Bill-24 appears to legitimize the flooding of a considerable portion of the Peace River Valley, an estimated 9, 897 acres of class l, 2, and 3 ALR land.
For a Bill touted as opening up new opportunities for farmers, this kind of project isn’t much help.
Perhaps an even weightier reason for Bill-24 is Christie Clark and the federal government’s commitment to pipelines—pipelines that must inevitably cross ALR boundaries. In fact, the Bill clearly states that the building of pipelines across ALR is to be permitted (see Appendix B3l of the government’s “Consultation on Potential Changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act”).
Again, in what way does this prospect enrich farmers or address our public concern over food security in a world threatened by global warming?
The obvious motive of the pipeline stipulation is to line up one more duck for Christie Clark’s fracked natural gas industry.
Food is more important to the welfare of British Columbians than money or natural gas. The government should be increasing or at least refining its ALR designations to ensure we have enough to eat as the century progresses.
The above mentioned “Consultation on Potential Changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act,” an outline of Bill-24’s contents, is posted on the ‘Net, inviting input. Find it at ALCA_feedback@gov.bc.ca. Elsewhere on the Net, the entire Bill is available for review.
Van Andruss is editor of the magazine Lived Experience. He enjoys the bioregional life and community in historic Moha outside of Lillooet, B.C