Competing visions of the ALR in Metro, Part 1

On 2010 Earth Day, April 22, I was fortunate to attend a breakfast event centred on the ALR. It was at the Hyatt Regency, and it was called Competing Visions of the Agricultural Land Reserve in Metro Vancouver. The provocative subtitle was Food Production, Housing or Industry? With Peter Ladner as moderator and five panelists with a range of perspectives, there was a lively exchange of ideas. It was excellent.

In this first post about the event, I’ll report and reflect on the five panelists.

Erik Karlsen

Erik Karlsen, Chair of the Agricultural Land Commission for the past five years, provided an overview of the ALC and ALR. His view was that the ALC’s purpose—to preserve farmland and encourage farming—is not going to change, regardless of competing visions. He said that  the pressures on the Agricultural Land Reserve strengthen the resolve to protect it.

Erik Karlsen described offsets to enhance agriculture as “a very controversial topic.” With the Garden City Lands, we’ve seen what a mess the ALC can help create when it ventures into soliciting offsets. I’ll discuss that in a later post in the Musqueam band strategy series on this blog.

By the way, Erik Karlsen has completed his term, and he indicated that the new ALC chair would be announced in about ten days.

Wendy Holm

“Speaking in defense of community,” Agrologist Wendy Holm clarified that the ALR was “created to protect BC foodlands,” not to protect local food, and I think she was inoculating the audience in preparation for the panelist who would follow her. She listed some ways to improve the ALR, and you can read them on Slide 13 in this PDF of her presentation.

An active Friend of Garden City, Wendy Holm travelled from Bowen Island to Richmond for the Garden City Lands public hearing in March 2008. She arrived first in order to sign up to speak first, and she stayed until after the ALR-exclusion applicants’ filibuster in order to speak even though it meant missing the last ferry back to Bowen. She also had an op-ed column on the issue published in the Vancouver Sun. It was great to  see her final slide, a very large “RESPECT” on a placid scene, echoing the focus on respect in our List of reasons for keeping the Garden City Lands in the ALR.

Diane Katz

Diane Katz is the Fraser Institute’s Director of Risk, Environment and Energy Policy. In her view, local food is currently the foremost justification for the ALR, and she criticized what she called “localism.”

This panelist argued that the ALR “cannot be justified by the superiority of local foods.” However, as a knowledgeable ALR supporter, I don’t recall supporters trying to justify the ALR, let alone with that rationale. (Local food is important for food security and for individual and community wellness. When the quality is high, that’s even better, but not as the main reason for the ALR.)

As well, Diane Katz called the ALR an anachronism that “deprives property owners of the use of their land in order to indulge special interest preferences.” I could only wonder what’s become of the Fraser Institute when founder Michael Walker’s fact-based reasoning has given way to the stringing together of loaded expressions.

Tsur Somerville

UBC economist Tsur Somerville of the Sauder School of Business said that Metro housing prices are 22% higher than they would be without the ALR. Facetiously, he suggested that an alternative way to make housing more affordable—invade Point Roberts and Blaine to seize the land—would be less controversial than ending the ALR. He seemed to have no idea that the ALR represents values people consider worth a lot. (For many non-economists, money is less an end in itself than a means to ends that matter.)

Patrick Condon

Professor Patrick Condon of the UBC Design Centre for Sustainability talked about how to manage the urban/ALR interface. The best way is synergies between habitation and agricultural potential, which means something when he illustrates it. I envisioned an example being a CSA (community supported agriculture farm) with people living around the farm supporting it with both cost sharing and labour and receiving the benefits. I also recognized that visions for the Garden City Lands that are presented on this blog would fit well with Professor Condon’s concept.


Before I wrap up this post, I wish to express appreciation, since a good deal of appreciation is due.

Thanks to the event hosts and sponsors:

  • NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association
  • SFU Centre for Dialogue, Planning Cities as if Food Matters
  • The Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia

Thanks especially to the latter two sponsors for making quite a few seats available at no charge (instead of the usual $90) to farmers, community groups and volunteer associations. I appreciated that because I, representing the Garden City Lands Coalition Society, was one of the beneficiaries.

Thanks to Peter Ladner, Fellow of the SFU Centre for Dialogue and businessman, writer, and politician, who energized the event without upstaging the panelists in his role as moderator.

Thanks to all the participants who contributed with questions and comments and in informal discussion before and after. I learned a lot from it. In fact, I felt that there was even more value in those aspects than in the panel discussions, as you’ll see in “Competing Visions of the ALR in Metro, Part 2.”



  1. 1
    Steve Lornie Says:

    I attended the same NAIOP symposium. You were either not listening to the speakers or you are spinning what was said.

    Dr. Somerville did NOT say land prices were 22 % higher due to the ALR, he said that HOUSING costs are 22% higher. This, he said, translated to about $60,000 dollars per unit. Big difference! Like about an extra $400 dollars a month in after-tax income on a mortgage! I hope the young people in the audience grasped that one.

    The special Interest groups Diane Katz referred to are those that aready own a house and are happy to load tha ALR’s hidden costs on to the next generation that can’t afford this extra $60,000.

    You obviously did not want to hear Diane Katz address the myths around food security, such as we are more secure in our food supply when we have many suppliers. She also pointed out the illogic of the 100-mile diet: that the carbon footprint of local food production is often much higher than the combined footprint of food produced in other countries PLUS its transport to BC.

    One thing that can be counted on is the pro-ALR faction’s ability to see only the thread-bare arguments in favour of the ALR, and completely ignore the unintended consequences of the ALR (urban sprawl, housing unaffordability, blue-collar job losses, etc.)

    • 2
      kewljim Says:

      In response to the advice, I’ve updated the post to reflect the alternative way of expressing the effect of up to 22%.

      Diane Katz’s central argument was simply an extended use of straw man fallacy.

  2. 3
    wendy holm Says:

    There was an inaccuracy in my statement re Site C withdrawals. The correct information is as follows:


    Class 1: 474 acres
    Class 2: 7,367 acres
    Class 3: 2,056 acres
    Class 4: 437 acres
    Class 5: 1,057 acres

  3. […] ***Update*** I forgot to post this long ago: The summary of the event by the Richmond’s Garden City Lands. […]

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