Competing visions of the ALR in Metro, Part 4

Please enlighten me.” With that entreaty, the staunchly anti-ALR Steve Lornie of Stonecroft Construction Management ends his comment on an earlier post in this series. I’ll give it one last try, even attempting to meet his criterion for acceptable enlightenment: “Responses should be fact-based, grounded in logic, and address the specific issue at hand.”

Note: Anything in this colour is Steve Lornie’s words.

This first block quote is from Steve’s list of “ALR-induced problems”:

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”.

Agricultural Land Commission chair Erik Karlsen provided ALR basics at the ALR dialogue event that Steve Lornie and I both attended a week ago, and the ALC chair factually stated the purposes of the ALC (and, by extension, the ALR). I’m thinking of creating an online survey for the Friends of Garden City, a large group of Richmond people who want to keep the Garden City Lands green in the ALR, and Steve has prompted me to formulate this question:

What is the purpose of the Agricultural Land Commission and ALR?
a.  To artificially keep uneconomic land in food production
b.  To prevent free and fair trade
c.  To preserve farmland and encourage farming
d.  To tell Third World farmers to basically “screw off”

Sorry I can’t yet provide factual results from that survey, but I bet that Erik Karlsen’s answer will be chosen by more respondents than the other three answers combined. The same will be true if I ask the respondents to choose the main reason they would support keeping the ALR.

Here’s another quote from Steve Lornie’s comments:

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.

In responding, I’ll try to meet the three conditions in Steve Lornie’s criterion for receiving enlightenment:

  • Addressing the specific issue at hand
  • Fact-based
  • Grounded in logic

The specific issue at hand: Is the ALR bad policy?

The facts:

  • The NDP Barrett government set up British Columbia’s ALR about 37 years ago.
  • The ALR represents a policy of preserving and improving BC farmland.
  • In that 37-year period, the province has had Social Credit and Liberal governments for more than two-thirds of the ALR’s existence.
  • In that period, governments of all political stripes, including future NDP governments, have kept the ALR.
  • Repeatedly calling something “bad policy” three times in a sentence does not make the opinion any less subjective. However, in the political realm, a bad policy is one that the voters don’t support. Since governments have to be supported by the voters in order to be elected and re-elected, they typically get rid of bad policy. The closest I can come to objectively identifying bad policy is to use bad in this sense of being seen to be be bad by enough voters to cause governments to get rid of it within a reasonable time. And 37 years under various governments would qualify as a reasonable time.

The logic:

In the foregoing context, a simple syllogism will suffice:

  • Major premise: Governments get rid of bad policy.
  • Minor premise: Governments have not got rid of the ALR policy.
  • Conclusion: The ALR is not bad policy.


Long ago, I took a philosophy course in logic. I’m pleased to find that I can still more or less write a syllogism. (My syllogism here is not perfect, but it’s adequate for the purpose.) The course was taught by a good and memorable man, and I still value friendships from that time. I’ve had to pause and reminisce. Even if I don’t succeed in enlightening Steve Lornie, I thank him for bringing back happy memories.

If you wish to read more of Steve Lornie’s ALR ideas, see Part 2 in this series and also “True food fecurity,” which links to Steve’s Vancouver Sun column and includes my 99-word response that the Sun published.



  1. 1
    Arzeena Says:

    The ALR does not increase housing prices. It’s poor planning & low density that does. Allowing 1 monster house on a site that could be split into 2 smaller houses more people affordably. But, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s looking at the size of housing in many suburban neighbourhoods.

    • 2
      Steve Lornie Says:

      Hi Arzeena,

      I very clearly heard Dr. Tsur Somerville say that the ALR raised the price of housing in the GVRD by 22%, or $60k per unit. That is a lot of money for a young couple to burden themselves with. He did qualify the statement by saying that there were a lot of variables, and he had to make some assumptions.

      So I am sorry to say you appear to be wrong in your conjectures.

      By the way I agree with you that higher density will help affordability, but why not high density on ALR land….. that’s a concept that the pro-ALR groups never think of. To them, development on ALR lands is always sprawl and SFD’s, not high density. It helps their argument but does not promote creative thinking. We need the pro-ALR groups to expand their blinkered view of the development industry.

      • 3
        kewljim Says:

        Tsur Somerville’s slides are at The relevant slide for Steve Lornie’s fact is Slide 15. Tsur Somerville actually said that 22% is the upper end of the estimate. That’s similar to a sale ad that says “Up to 70% off” (with the “Up to” in small type).

        Tsur Somerville also said that the ALR is not the main source of affordability problems. Arzeena’s example may not be the main source either, but on the basis of the Somerville presentation it might be (and might not be).

        What Tsur Somerville did say is that the ALR is the “source of affordability problems” that “may be easiest to fix.” Well, not too many people would disagree that a whole lot of building on flat greenfield land would have some lowering effect on house prices, although the 22%-off sale would be limited by windfall profits to land speculators (among others). The ALR protects against the long-term consequences of that “easy fix.”

  2. 4
    Steve Lornie Says:


    I disagree with you on the fundamental premise of your ‘bad policy’ argument. Your premise is (correct me if I misread it) is that a policy cannot be bad if the majority of people support it and governments do not get rid of it after 37 years. That would mean that all popular policies (feeding Christians to the lions in 1st Century Rome, slavery in 18th century America, the Chinese Exclusion Act in 20th century Canada, etc.) by definition cannot be “bad”. That is preposterous. Your syllogism collapses under its false premise and you get an “F”.

    Good/bad policy is defined by its rightness and morality and consequences. It is not defined by the level of its popularity. Sorry.

    respectfully yours,

    Steve Lornie

    • 5
      kewljim Says:

      Steve, the post states that in the political realm “The closest I can come to objectively identifying bad policy is to use bad in this sense of being seen to be be bad by enough voters to cause governments to get rid of it within a reasonable time.” Trying to identify bad policy objectively is a difficult task, and a better objective criterion would have been welcome, but none was offered. The only alternative put forward is about as subjective as possible.

      If the word “bad” in the expression “bad policy” simply means that Steve and/or Diane Katz feel it is immoral, then any attempt to use logic in response will indeed fail, even though it is easy to express your reasoning in a textbook-perfect syllogism:
      1. All policies that Steve and/or Diane feel are immoral are bad policy.
      2. The ALR is a policy that Steve and Diane feel is immoral.
      Ergo, the ALR is bad policy.

      • 6
        Steve Lornie Says:

        Neither I nor Diane Katz have stated that the ALR is bad policy solely because we “feel” it is immoral. We have given a number of solid reasons that are yet to be addressed or disproved:

        1) The ALR raises housing prices, thus impoverishing young families.

        2) The ALR causes development “leafrogging” due to the fact that much ALR land is in the heart of the GVRD.

        3) The ALR allows the majority, (ie: those that do not own farmland) to be “free riders” by putting the costs of the ALR on the backs of the minority, (ie: those that do own farmland). This is corrupting of a democratic society in that the few are bullied by the many, and no one seems to care.

        4) The ALR is meant to encourage an industry (agriculture) that in a modern industrial society is somewhat uneconomic. Therefore taxes on productive people and businesses are higher than they ought to be to cover the subsidies and tax loopholes for farmers.

        5) Subsidizing and artificially protecting farming in Canada hurts the Third World farmer. This is immoral.

        6) $20-dollar-an-hour blue-collar jobs are lost when companies move to locations with affordable industrial land. We then encourage $12-dollar-an-hour seasonal jobs in agriculture in their place. Huh?

        These are some of the reasons both Diane and I believe the ALR is bad policy. We don’t “feel” it true. We “think” it true.

        I can agree with you that there are some fine uses (parks, trails, gardens, etc) for the Garden City Lands that are neither residential, commercial, or industrial. The ALR, however, is not the proper vehicle for developing those uses.

        And why have the “ALR in Metro Part 3” and “ALR in Metro Part 4” headings been summarily removed from your Recent Postings list? What gives?


  3. 7
    kewljim Says:

    Steve, glad you like some of the uses that the community proposes for the Garden City Lands. They may be possible, along with leading-edge urban agriculture aspects, because the lands are in the ALR. Whether or not the ALR should include uses like that, we just deal with the reality of what the ALR actually is and isn’t.

    The two posts you asked about must have been automatically removed from the Recent Posts lists by the WordPress programming. They are the eighth and ninth most recent posts, and I notice (now that you’ve brought it to my attention) that the programming only allows the last seven to be included under “Recent Posts.”

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