Competing visions of the ALR in Metro, Part 2

Here’s the promised follow-up post about the excellent Competing Visions of the Agricultural Land Reserve in Metro Vancouver event. Without much comment, I’ll share my notes to give a feeling for the ideas that came out after the five panelists had spoken.

After those presentations, which I’ve addressed in Part 1, the panelists answered questions that had been submitted on paper from the audience.

On a question re viability as a factor in excluding lands from the ALR:

  • Agricultural Land Commission chair Eric Karlsen said that what matters is “the potential for production of food and other agricultural products in the long term” (with emphasis where shown with italics).
  • Wendy Holm pointed out that economics change.
  • Both were getting at the essence of a reserve, which is prudent preparation for future need.

On a question about whether we can trust the supply of non-local food:

  • Diane Katz said that we depend on global supplies of all sorts of things. The more sources you have, the more security you have. She then got into safety: just because it is grown in BC doesn’t make it safe.
  • Patrick Condon said that 2050 constraints will need to become part of regional policy soon. We have a couple of decades in which to provide some degree of food security. It doesn’t currently exist.
  • I quietly wondered why Diane Katz seems not to differentiate between food, which is an essential for life, and other products that are not.

On a question about how we address price patterns, the comments in my notes seem disconnected. In part, that may be a sign of panelists returning to favourite themes when given the chance by a fuzzy question.

  • Tsur Somerville said that farms and urban don’t go together.
  • Wendy Holm said that farmland values have risen because of speculation.
  • Patrick Condon said that government traditionally creates and takes away value.
  • Moderator Peter Ladner talked about a wealthy individual making a $20 million investment in a farm in the centre of Detroit with the purpose of driving up the value of property other than the farm (presumably the surrounding area).

Finally,  audience members got to speak into roving mikes.

  • A successful farmer described how he wanted to expand his farm and needed to do so nearby because of the nature of his product, turkeys. He couldn’t acquire nearby land, and I think his frustration was from non-farming uses of neighboring ALR land making it not possible.
  • Former NDP cabinet minister Bob Williams, a founder of the ALR, mentioned the idea of sharing the profits from removal of lands from the ALR (presumably to deal with speculation), the need to shift the effect of the property-tax burden (presumably so that farmers don’t pay too much property tax when farmland values rise a lot), and the desirability of making more use of mountainous lands (presumably because Tsur Somerville’s presentation had seemed to dismiss mountains as not being usable for housing).
  • Diane Katz responded to Bob Williams that we don’t have to live with policies established forty years ago, and Tsur Somerville agreed. Since neither of them liked ALR controls, Patrick Condon responded that establishing land controls is something governments do, and the question is what the land controls will be.
  • Someone from the SFU Centre for Sustainable Development pointed out that the global food system has led to huge corporate concentration. We pay many kinds of costs because the global food system encourages unhealthy food.
  • Dave Sands, ALR Protection and Enhancement Committee, referred to Tsur Somerville’s panel presentation. Dave Sands said that the 22% lower cost of homes if the ALR is abolished would be offset by increases in the cost of food.

I imagine most people there also learned from individual conversations, and I did from four or five. For instance, I talked to a commercial realtor who wanted more rearrangement of the ALR, with unproductive farmland being used for other purposes and with potentially productive land being added to the ALR. I would essentially agree, and of course the ALC Act encourages it. Doing it well is a challenge.

The forum lived up to its “Competing visions of the ALR” billing, and the dialogue probably didn’t change a lot of minds. But it did get me thinking more than ever about synergies. My experience has been that they’re a tough sell because they’re so far out of people’s usual thinking that it’s almost impossible to express them clearly enough. I guess we’d just better maintain a healthy disrespect for the impossible.


  1. 1
    Steve Lornie Says:

    The ALR dialogue should be about putting forth reasonable arguments based on available and verifiable facts. Responses should be fact-based, grounded in logic, and address the specific issue at hand. I have seen little evidence of this from the pro-ALR camp. The NAIOP panel discussion proved this out.

    There was no clear response from the pro-ALR speakers to a number of points raised on Thursday. I would love to hear a rational argument to the following ALR-induced problems:

    URBAN SPRAWL: Development must now “leap-frog” over ALR lands. A commute in from South Surrey on Hwy 99 has one driving for miles past fields only half-heartedly farmed, if farmed at all.

    HOUSING UNAFFORDABILITY: No argument was made to dispute Tsur Somerville’s findings that the ALR caused a $60,000 increase in price of the average dwelling unit in the GVRD. This harms young couples trying to establish their roots in the Lower Mainland, and it hurts our immigrants. This is unfair and it is socially corrosive, and the ALR must shoulder its share of the blame.

    WAR ON THE POOR: It was pointed out more than once that artificially keeping uneconomic land in food production hurts the Third World farmer. All they ask is that we allow free and fair trade in the few things they have to sell us. By way of the ALR we are telling them to basically “screw off”.

    ECONOMIC DAMAGE: The fact that we need subsidies, marketing boards, and tax exemptions for farmers, plus high tariffs on food imports, says that much of Canada’s farming activity is an artificial construct. Many jobs are lost in better-paying industries so that ALR-induced farming can continue. How many companies have located to other jurisdictions to avoid the (ALR-caused) $1,000,000 per acre cost of industrial land in the GVRD?

    These ALR-induced consequences are why some of us question the worth of this heavy-handed 1970’s-era experiment in social and economic engineering. Diane Katz eloquently answered Bob Williams when he said that the ALR has been settled policy for 40 years and why would anyone have the temerity to question it – she said that bad policy is bad policy, and even if it is 40 years old it is still bad policy.

    Please enlighten me.

    • 2
      kewljim Says:

      Steve, after the Vancouver Sun published your anti-ALR column last October, two later issues included about five letters in response, all rebutting your arguments. While looking up the op-ed column,, I discovered that you also drew a column-length rebuttal, Maybe I can address some of your points in future posts, but I have a backlog of topics, and other people seem to have taken care of your request well.

      Incidentally, the work shown on your construction management company’s website,, is spectacular.

      • 3
        Steve Lornie Says:

        The rebuttal you refer to in the Sun (Olewiler / Richards) proves the point I am making: ALR proponents refuse to address the unintended consequences of the ALR, and fall back on emotionalism, sentimentality, shallow populist rhetoric, and ad hominem attacks.

        My first point was that the “Food Security” argument is bogus (Canadians have never had better food choices at lower costs than they do today….We must stop pretending that “food security” is acheived by growing our own food…..Food security is acheived when societies such as ours become wealthy, it eludes those that do not”). Olewiler / Richards dodged this with an anemic “Obviously, farmland in Metro Vancouver cannot provide us with total security.” My point was not whether we could acheive the nebulous concept of “food security”, my point was that the concept itself is nonsense on a stick.

        My next point was about the serious economic damage being done to young people and immigrants due to astronomical housing prices. Again Olewiler / Richards maundered with “The ALR may raise urban land prices somewhat.” In Tsur Somerville’s estimation, this “somewhat” adds $60,000 to the price of the average GVRD housing unit. Do they not understand that this burden falls on the backs of 30-year olds trying to raise families? Please just give me a valid argument that justifies this burden.

        One of my key points was that most homeowners feel that they benefit from high housing costs. It is part of their retirement planning, ie: sell my $2 million dollar Westside home and buy something in Parksville. Support for the ALR is tainted by this self-interest.

        I made the assertion that the ALR was about “protecting high real estate values and controlling growth in semi-urban areas.” Olewiler / Richards boldly stated “he’s wrong on both counts”, then immediately discussed “..the ALR’s benefit in limiting urban sprawl” while ignoring the fact that ALR “leapfrogging” is a major cause of urban sprawl.

        In their last paragraph they state that “the public amenity benefits add up to millions of dollars.” Yes, of course they add up to millions of dollars, but the benefits are being enjoyed by well-off middle-aged homeowners who already “have theirs”, and are being paid for by the young, by blue-collar workers, by immigrants, small business owners, and by the poor.

        The worst example of the paucity of argument in the Olewiler / Richards piece was their inference that because I questioned the value of the ALR then surely I must want to build condos in Stanley Park.

        Nowhere in the Olewiler / Richards response was a reasoned, logical rebuttal to my op-ed piece.

        Steve Lornie

        (And I thank you for the compliments on our past projects)

  2. Lornie does not make his case. He does not understand land use other than the simplistic Fraser Institute approach of building on anything. Leapfrogging as he calls it, is wise land use management, in the same way he does not put his toilet in his living room. The mountain new towns are not leap frogging over farmland but putting housing where is belongs.
    You do not build on your children’s farmland just as you do not build on a lake or river or other things best used for other purposes. The vested interest lobby of farmland development is more than unethical, it is a bit suicidal. Energy price shock from peak oil will mean the food you depend on today will not be delivered to yourself in a few short years, perhaps this one. It is time for society to grow up and be responsible. Do you really want to have to farm the hillsides like Japan that did not figure it out until too late? We will be needing to not only farm the ALR but the new hill farms too. The jobs the BAU folks see as a commute away from a picket fenced abode are also not going to last; if they could see what is approaching, they would better spend their energies on lobbying for the new Homestead Act rather than aiding in the death of Suburbia or the end of the Alpha City, which this area aspires to. There are so many ways of doing alternates to the mess we are creating now, which will not be functional at all in short order.

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