Reading Ben Stewart’s ALR tea leaves

South of the border, they got around to Thanksgiving yesterday (45 days after us) and celebrated today in frenzied Black Friday sales. Here in B.C. where we are Canadian and therefore nice, the Garden City Lands Coalition Society enjoyed a virtual cup of tea, an email message from our new Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Ben Stewart.

We had forwarded Mr. Stewart some input we sent earlier to Richard Bullock for his ALR Review. After acknolwedging the previous minister, our cover message said this:

Hon. Steve Thompson and his senior staff were closely involved in the ALR Review led by Richard Bullock, chair and CEO of the Agricultural Land Commission, and we are hoping you are as interested and supportive. Initial skepticism about the ALR Review has evolved into widespread optimism because everyone who has interacted with Mr. Bullock has been impressed with his attentive commitment to strengthening and improving the ALR. The positive responses have been without exception, and they have come from all over the province from a range of supporters from small organic farmers to cattle ranchers. It must be challenging to move into a new ministry with a new deputy minister, but we urge you to do whatever you can to facilitate the implementation of the ALR Review. The unified enthusiasm that Mr. Bullock has managed to generate in simple ways is quite remarkable, and the effect can be very good for British Columbians today and far into the future.

Hon. Ben Stewart replied:

Thank you for your email sharing the input you sent to Richard Bullock, Chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, for his consideration during the review of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

I appreciate your input about the proposed exclusion of Garden City Lands from the ALR and your positive comments about the manner in which the Chair is conducting the review.  I look forward to receiving the Chair’s report.

That was like a well-brewed hot cup of tea because we felt that the minister had actually thought a little about our input. (We had used the Garden City Lands situation to illustrate our recommendations.) Not every minister does that.

But what are we left with that tells us what we can look ahead to?

Well, I think the minister wouldn’t have been explicitly appreciative about our positive comments about the ALC chair’s work if the minister didn’t essentially agree. Furthermore, the minister copied his message to the ALC chair to let him know he’d been caught in the act of doing his job well. As well, the minister’s comment about looking forward to receiving the report is a message to the ALC chair, as well as us, that the minister is favourably predisposed to what the report will say.

You may say I’m reading too much into the tea leaves, but the reality is that good signs are better than bad signs. I think the momentum established by Hon. Steve Thomson before his promotion and carried on by Richard Bullock is still with us under the new minister. That is good for the ALR and for agriculture and food security in British Columbia. Here, in Richmond, one of the beneficiaries is the ongoing Save Garden City campaign.

It’s still Thanksgiving weekend in most of North America, and Hon. Ben Stewart has given us a reason to give thanks with optimism. The year ahead is a challenging one with both promise and potential pitfalls, but right now there’s a happy time.

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