ALR in BC

Maroc maroc at islandnet.com
Wed Aug 15 03:45:53 EDT 2001


In answer to questions about the origin of BC's Ag Land Reserve - In Dec.
1972 the BC government instituted an ag land "freeze" (as the media of the
day termed it).  That meant no rezoning of land that was already zoned for
ag use.  Of course that included a lot of land, especially in the Fraser
Valley, that was held by speculators waiting to use it for real estate
development (residential mostly) and keeping it in ag zoning because that
was the lowest rate of property taxation.  The job of deciding which land
would permanently be in the ALR was then turned over to municipal and
regional (covering unincorporated areas) governments, with the provioncial
cabinet having the last word.

The farmers were appalled.  The BC Federation of Ag said they would plow up
their crops, pour their milk in the ditches, things like that.  They held
the biggest demonstrations ever seen in Victoria (BC capital on Vancouver
Island) at the Legislative buildings but the government stuck to their
guns.

The biggest problem was compensation of course, compensarion for taking
away the "right" to sell farm land for "higher and better" use.  But of
course the owners, whether farmers or speculators, had purchased land at
farm land prices and they could still sell it for farm land prices.  The
legislation came about because mountainous BC has very little good ag land,
the best if it is in the Fraser (River) Valley, the major urban centre of
the province, and it was being eaten up by developers as the population of
the Vancouver area grew.

Instead of compensation the BC government planned to provide a
comprehensive set of government-backed income insurance schemes.  The ag
minister met with each commodity group and they set up product insurance to
which farmers contributed so that farm income would never go below the cost
of production.  The farmers began to quiet down but the
speculator/developers did not.  After all farm land was cheap, cleared,
generally level and well-dreained, a perfect place to make quick profits in
residential development.

The government also established a revolving fund through which they could
buy farm/ranch land at market values and lease it with an option to buy to
young people who did not have the capital to get into ag.

Even before everything was in place the government lost the election and
Bill Bennett became Primier. (by the way, that's the same Bennett family
mentioned by Brian and Jaqueline) He and his political party would have
liked to repeal the ALR but by then too many voters realized its value.
Instead they weakened the powers of the land commission, making it possible
to take land out of the ALR through actions of the governing cabinet.
Bennett also did away with the farm insurance plans which made sense of the
ALR.

The ALR has been through many ups and downs in its nearly 30 year life but
it is still one of the best land preservation schemes devised.  We just had
a provincial election in BC and the development-minded people are back in
the saddle.  We can expect the ALR (now joined with the Forest Land
Reserve) to be seriously weakened and much more good ag land will end up
under suburban homes and shopping malls.

That's a very sketchy description of the politics of the ALR.  Its
application to individual farms is quite complex and has changed
considerably over time.  It is far from perfect but it is better than
nothing (of course I'm on the side of farming not the
speculator/developers).  The ALR is very important on Vancouver Island
right now.  Good farmland makes up only a tiny percentage of the island,
along a very thin strip on the east coast of the island.  We produce less
than 10 percent of the food consumed here (much less is dairy products are
not counted).  We've lost our fishing industry and logging and milling are
decreasing every year.  One hope is to increase ag production.  In our area
(the Cowichan Valley an hour north of Victoria) vineyard/wineries and small
acreage mixed farms are growing.  Farmgate sales and farmers' markets are
doing very well.  The supermarkets are opening to local products but the
distribution system has not yet developed - the question, of course, is how
do you create a distributioon/retail system in which the "middle man" does
not cream off too much of the margin.

Hope this helps some.  I'll try to answer more specific questions about the
function of the land commission if there are any.  Others on the list from
BC may not agree with my view since the ALR has never ceased to be a
controversial subject - it almost defines left and right in BC politics.

Don Maroc
Vancouver Island, Canada





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