Further delay in the ALR-exclusion decision

At the end of the August 14 meeting with the Garden City Lands applicants in Richmond, Agricultural Land Commission chair Erik Karlsen said to expect a decision on the ALR-exclusion application within four to six weeks, i.e., Sept. 11–25. The decision was not made in that period, but the Commission did then provide an indication of when the Garden City Lands panel would meet. Now the meeting and decision have been delayed again. This post provides some background and then goes through four ramifications.

 

Background

The Agricultural Land Commission had indicated they would consider the Garden City Lands ALR-exclusion application at the three-day meeting of the South Coast panel that began on September 29. (They, via land planner Ron Wallace, expressed that quite definitely.) However, it turns out that they have not discussed the application yet. The reason that has been hinted at is the difficulty of bringing together that three-member South Coast panel with the three additional commissioners who are included in the Garden City Lands panel.

The only inkling about a new date that Ron Wallace of the ALC staff could provide was that it should be possible for the panel to meet in the third week of November (which ends on Nov. 21) because all the commissioners will be coming together at the ALC headquarters at that time. He said that only the commission chair, Erik Karlsen, could give a definite answer. So far, Ron Wallace has not got back to us with an answer from Erik Karlsen.

 

Ramification 1—re looming deadline

In the purchase agreement by which Richmond could acquire part of the property, there is a condition precedent that makes the agreement null and void if the property is not excluded from the ALR by December 31, 2006. That was later extended, first to December 31, 2007, and then to December 31, 2008, and the existing agreement does not allow it to be extended further. There should, however, be renegotiations under the initial agreement, the memorandum of understanding that has come to be known simply as the MOU. Although that should be possible, it is also possible that other parties to the MOU, particularly Canada Lands Company CLC, could find a way to tear up the MOU. In any case, there are certainly MOU provisions (1.22, 1.23, and 2.1) that allow for renegotiation within the MOU, and renegotiation is what CLC will embark on if it reciprocates the goodwill that the City of Richmond has shown.

 

Ramification 2—re additional time for panel members

Another ramification of the delay is that it may be allowing the panel members additional time to study the massive application from CLC (officially submitted by the City) and the huge volume of public responses. That would be excellent from the standpoint of those who wish to save the Garden City Lands for ecological, food-security, and other greenspace uses for community benefit. I have studied the application and read many of the responses from the community, and I believe that the community has made a much better case than CLC has. If the panelists manage to study the whole CLC application and all the community responses, they are likely to reject the application. (Note: CLC—specifically CLC’s Randy Fasan—project-managed the application.)

 

Ramification 3—re federal election

A third ramification is related to the federal election. As lots of Garden City Lands supporters realize, an ALC decision would certainly have brought the Garden City Lands back into the news. I think the renewed public interest would have favoured those who want to save the lands.

On the federal level, that might have been tricky for Raymond Chan, since his party has been running on a pro-environment platform that is inconsistent with destroying the western end of the Lulu Island Bog. As everyone who visited his old website knows, Mr. Chan used to feature the Garden City Lands on the home page as his great achievement for Richmond. He is now downplaying that, though still touting benefits that the agreement does not actually provide. For example, one high-profile claim that has been raising some ire is that it would provide affordable housing for seniors, even though that is not supported by the agreements or anything else. (There is no reason to think the development would do any more than meet the minimum requirements for affordable housing.) As it happens, three other MP candidates in the Richmond Riding have been active in saving the Lands, and at least Alice Wong and Michael Wolfe would have been able to make the most of the issue if an ALC decision had moved it off the back burner. (Whether all of that is good or bad depends on whether you want Raymond Chan re-elected, and this is simply an analysis of the effects.)

 

Ramification 4—re municipal election

On the city council level, an early decision bringing the Garden City Lands into the news would have drawn attention to council members on each side of the issue, especially the six council members who supported the City making the application to the ALC, which the City was not required to do under the agreements. (It was specifically CLC’s responsibility.)

If the Lands had been excluded from the ALR by now, that would have given the opponents a huge issue. The councillors who supported the application would have been associated with rampant development and environmental destruction, and they probably would have been swept out of office. (I recall something like that happening with Terra Nova about eighteen years ago.) With the election after this November’s being three years away, they have a better chance to escape voter wrath.

If the application had been rejected, however, even the council members who voted in favour of it could have emerged okay from the issue (and still can do so) by co-operating with the save-Garden-City council members and the federal government to make sure that a good alternative arrangement for Richmond is negotiated with the current holder of the title to the lands, CLC.

(Note: The Musqueam Indian Band also has a 50% undivided and unregistered beneficial interest in the property, i.e., a right to receive half the profit when the property is turned into money. Presumably, that interest should not continue to exist if CLC and/or the Musqueam ever tear up the MOU.)

 

Ramification 5—re timing for federal government

If a decision had come down just before the federal election or during the election, that would have been a problem in one sense. That is because the federal government (like the provincial government) does not function in the usual way during elections. For most purposes, the civil service runs things, with the elected government getting involved only when that is essential. It will be good if the federal government gets involved (at least to monitor the situation) immediately after the ALC decision, especially if the decision is to refuse the application. For that reason, it is a good thing that a decision was not announced during the federal election campaign and evidently will not be announced very soon afterward, when the elected government is getting back up to speed.

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