Mention the ALR, the Agricultural Land Reserve and hearts quicken on both sides of the forty-seven year old debate. Today the ALR is looking to meet new challenges for land use and to curb the actions of some who want to change the original intent of the act. Others want changes to reflect on new realities while others want the status quo.
We see the present and ask the question, the reality is this or that, so change is as simple as the stroke of a pen. As someone who has heard from all sides in the past let me tell you “It Ain’t That Simple.”
In order to understand where we are and why we’re here we have to look at some history. There are even a series of what I would call unrelated events that shaped the thinking some forty-seven years ago.
Rather than throw out some simplistic answers and a quick personal opinion, let us take a look at the picture in a series of articles. We can agree or disagree. But first let us live in the moment of a half century ago in Part One.
In nineteen seventy-two BC had its ideological chain yanked twice in twenty years. In nineteen fifty-two the Province embraced the Social Credit Party that came from obscurity under the leadership of WAC Bennett. He was a conservative who sat as an independent. His party defeated the conservative/liberal coalition government in that election. He beat the CCF/NDP by a whisker. The old coalition was obliterated.
Just as a point of interest, there was a preferred ballot system at the time.
The new conservative Social Credit Party did some very socialistic things in the public interest. They nationalized BC Ferries, BC Rail, BC Gas and BC Hydro. They paved and built new and improved transportation infrastructure and created a climate of confidence.
They embarked on a program the brought about the ALR.
I speak of the Columbia River Treaty. Bennett’s government entered into an agreement to build a series of dams on the Columbia. The purpose was not only for power but for down stream flood control. The object was flood control and power stations. Canada and BC would be paid for loss of land and for those who lost their homes and farms. In addition to individual compensation the region also received benefit through what is called the Columbia River Trust worth over a hundred million dollars today.
There were unintended consequences. For one, the Americans used the excess water to irrigate over a million additional acres of new sustainable farmland. How did that impact BC?
Here is one example. Prior to the Treaty BC and Washington each produced about twelve million boxes of apples a year. Over time the difference is BC produces around. 3 million boxes and Washington produces 130 million boxes. The disparity is evident when speaking of other commodities as well. The second unforeseen change happened when the NDP won the election of nineteen seventy-two. Their view of agriculture was much different. They were focused on preserving sustainable farmland. This had some consequences of its own. It forced cities to reconsider everything connected to urban planning. It inflated land prices and the shortage of development land increased the price of land in general. In the rush to bring the ALR into reality, some land should have been included was out, while some questionable land was trapped within the reserve.
The other issue is, if you are going to preserve the land you must also implement a means to save the farmer. Especially new farmers, the young farmers starting out. The areas of technology, and knowledge and a means to get young farmers on the land affordably. In ending part one keep this in mind the problems facing the ALR are not because we started talking about it the problems have magnified because, until recently no one brought the subject into the open.
First let me state I had a lot of discussions about the ALR in the past. My discussions were with farmers, citizens, municipal and provincial governments and the opposition parties. As a former Board Member and former President of the BCFGA the ALR was always on the agenda and supported by the majority of farmers during the time I served. Even with all of its warts and foibles I support the concept and the framework of the ALR. However like anything else it needs to be reviewed and the issues of the day need to be dealt with in real time.
Two policy discussions and changes in fifty years is not prudent management.