What if the federal government changes?

Does it matter for the future of the Garden City Lands if the Conservative government is replaced by a Liberal-led coalition?

My view: The political turmoil is not preferable, but the end result can be the same either way.

The waters have been partly charted for us by the Upton Farm issue, Prince Edward Island’s Garden City Lands. In Charlottetown, where Upton Farm is located, they too had to deal with Canada Lands Company CLC trying to turn farmland into a construction site. The people there took their case to politicians of all stripes at all three levels, and the politicians acted. Negotiations began that will save the farm. When the Charlottetown city council reversed itself, the PEI premier and the federal MP and cabinet ministers added their support. Canada Lands then remembered its role, which should be one of service, not lordship. (For more details about the Upton Farm issue, see “Priming Canada Lands’ green values for Richmond.”)

The relevant point right now is that Charlottetown’s member of parliament, along with all the other PEI MPs at the time, was a Liberal. The federal government that was very responsive to him was Conservative. In Richmond, we have two MPs who strongly support saving the Lands. They happen to be Conservatives, and we should expect that a Liberal-led government (if it comes about) would respond as effectively on our similar issue as the Conservative government did when the party roles were reversed in PEI.

In addition, we can reasonably expect our other local federal candidates (the ones who were not elected in October) to support the two elected ones on this issue. During the election campaign, there was broad support from the candidates for saving the Lands. Even Liberal incumbent Raymond Chan, who was in a difficult position because of his role in bringing in the initial memorandum of understanding (MOU), said that he would act to save the Lands if that is what the community wanted. All of those politicians could stand shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Cummins and Ms. Wong in getting help from Ottawa and in demanding respect and appropriate behaviour from Canada Lands. That would be powerful.

There could even be a role for Mr. Chan. While the MOU, the document he had a part in, wasn’t nearly as good for Richmond as he presumably hoped it would be, the more damaging document was the second one, the City’s purchase agreement, which is very much stacked against the City. Mr. Chan also had no way to foresee that City council would offload a lot of its responsibility to the Agricultural Land Commission and to City staff that council placed under the project leadership of a Canada Lands person (who naturally gave priority to his company’s interests and not so much the City’s). If Mr. Chan is still interested, perhaps he will help get value from what was done right in the MOU, which was the provisions for renegotiation, arbitration, and restoration to original positions.

What’s different because of the turmoil in Ottawa is that it’s become more obvious that Richmond council members should stop waiting for a miracle from Ottawa to rescue them from the pit that some of them have dug themselves into. With the City’s Garden City Lands purchase agreement about to expire, it is clearly time to renegotiate, and the obvious way to do that is within the processes laid out in the MOU. If need be, that would lead to arbitration by Bob Plecas, as stated in the MOU. Canada Lands and the Musqueam may prefer to ignore that process because they can wield more power if they don’t have to follow rules or a process, and the City has probably ignored it because Canada Lands has had so much influence over it. Unless council members who want to save the Lands insist on a change, there will be no change, and one of our best assets will be wasted.

Clearly, we need most or all council members working with Coun. Harold Steves in an informed way on this issue and helping him. We need the council members not only to step up like that but also to stand up to Canada Lands and the way it treats the City. Regardless of what Canada Lands may think, Richmond is not a flea-bitten stray dog begging for scraps from an uncaring quasi-master’s hand.

Or at least it shouldn’t be. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what our federal representatives do or what the citizens do unless Richmond council starts doing its part very well.

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