Re Plant column, Richmond Review, Dec. 6, 2007

Geoff Plant’s Dec. 6 column demonstrates outstanding rhetorical skills and support for fellow Liberals. Many of us usually support the provincial Liberals, whom Mr. Plant represented in the legislature, but as responsible citizens we need to put partisan politics aside and not support the undermining of the B.C. treaty process. We know that fair and lasting treaties with first nations, not stopgaps in the hope of 2010 harmony, are vital for our province’s future.

The column is relevant here because it somehow morphs away from an attempted defence of non-treaty giveaways and into the Garden City lands issue, which is clearly outside Mr. Plant’s areas of expertise and essentially carries on the standard spin from a national (Toronto) public relations company whose fees are no doubt coming from our Richmond taxes, as well as from the mega-density development partners.

Although the Auditor General of Canada has shown that the Garden City lands agreement does not further the treaty process, that is far from the only reason to oppose the removal of the lands from B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The Agricultural Land Commission made the basic reason clear when rejecting Canada Lands Company’s application for removal: the Garden City lands are prime farmland that is well suited to farming.

Nevertheless, the Plant column is correct in stating, in effect, that parties to the Garden City lands agreements have been delinquent in acting on their obligations. They have failed to complete the steps by the dates listed in the agreements, which are the initial memorandum of understanding and the follow-up agreement of purchase and sale. Now they want to drag things on for another year. 

Under the agreements, especially the purchase agreement, the city has fewer rights and more obligations than Canada Lands and the Musqueam. Where we do have rights, Richmond Council should protect them, and we as citizens need to be vigilant to ensure that they are protected. However, it’s hard to visualize what’s at stake.

A comparison with something more familiar may help. The purchase agreement may be more complex than any home purchase you’ll ever experience, but there’s enough in common. Let’s give that analogy a try.

In May 2005 you agreed to buy a home. In November 2005 you signed the purchase agreement, with the sale to be completed in January 2013 or perhaps two or three years later. The agreement was subject to many conditions, almost all enforceable by the seller and the purchaser of the neighbouring home.

Under one of the subject conditions, you were required to help the seller and the other purchaser to get approval from a guardian agency that ensures that land of high community value is used responsibly. The agreement was to be cancelled if the condition was not met by the end of December 2006.

You fulfilled your obligations to the best of your ability, but in September 2006 the guardian of responsible land use returned a firm decision that the proposed change in use of the property would be irresponsible. Some people then argued that you should help them try again. Your role would be to contrive new ways to convince the guardian that the irresponsible use should be allowed because you need it. Other people pointed out that it’s better to let go of the agreement and do what’s right for you, your family, and the community.

You let the deadline for removing the subject condition be extended until the end of December 2007 so that the seller could try again, even though you had no further obligation to be involved in that. After the seller explained her strategy, you tried out ways to show the guardian that you truly were really, really needy. They didn’t work, but you did get something out of the effort: you realized what a mess you’d got yourself into. The home is much smaller than you thought, and the seller and other purchaser have the right to scatter your property throughout theirs to give them recreation space. After reading the purchase agreement better, you discovered that the other parties can even cancel the agreement if you don’t keep them happy enough until 2013. Then you found there will be a restrictive covenant on your home, even after you take possession, that forever limits what you or anyone buying it from you can do with the property.

Now, fifteen months after being rejected by the guardian agency, the seller still wants to go back to them because approval would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars for her and the other purchaser. However, the seller knows that she has no chance of getting approval unless you can make a convincing argument. She suggests ways to show that changing the use of your property will provide a net benefit from the guardian’s standpoint. For example, since you have been neglecting other properties in which you have an interest, the seller and other purchaser could give you a large sum of money to fix things up enough to buy support from the people who live on those properties. You’re sorely tempted to take the money, even though you had a windfall in 2007 when you inherited $141 million from wise ancestors who would certainly expect you to use some of it to make up for your negligence.

The seller insists that the deadline for removing the subject condition be extended, if need be to the end of December 2008. Someone else you thought was a friend jumps in to say that you should try extra hard to support the other purchaser, even though you have already gone far beyond your obligations and realize that you should let the bad deal lapse and meet the true needs of your own family. Also, you know that the other purchaser has just been given a billion-dollar gift, but your friend reminds you that the purchaser had a difficult past. Be honourable, you grinch, says your friend. Stop dwelling on your rights and principles and your family’s future!

But you know you’ve done nothing wrong, so you can’t agree. The appropriate step for the other purchaser is to pursue his wants through the excellent existing process, which is the life’s work of many honourable people and the best long-term solution for all.

Still, you like to be liked, and you have trouble being firm enough when people put pressure on you. You think again about what’s best for your family. But maybe, you tell yourself, it will all go away if I just let things slide. Or maybe it’s time to take a stand.


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