Archive for the ‘Bill 24 and ALR’ Category

Yay, Michelle, Kelly, Lana, Laura and John!

October 30, 2017

The Garden City went to Victoria today to advocate for the ALR.

Our representatives from Richmond exchanged ideas with the Honourable Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, a friendly host.

From left to right in the above photo, the group consists of Michelle Li, Kelly Greene, Minister Lana Popham, Laura Gillanders and John Roston.

They came to the BC Legislature bearing the best of gifts, organically grown food from a Richmond ALR farm. You can be sure that Lana Popham—as agriculture minister and as a longtime farmer—appreciated it.

All of them were representing FarmWatch, along with the Garden City Conservation Society. Most of all, they were representing many hundreds of citizens who signed letters of support that the visitors brought with them (as shown), along with millions of British Columbians who care about the ALR.

What can we say? Yay, Team!

(Click the photos for larger versions.)

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An open letter to BC MLAs who support the ALR

October 28, 2017

Thank you whatever help you can manage!*

Every one of you—every green, orange or red MLA—please act together on this as British Columbians, transcending everything else.

You probably know that Richmond is fast losing its ALR farms to non-farm mansion use. While that city’s ALR has been almost defenceless, perhaps you can deter the pillage before your community and its ALR are hit as hard.

For better or worse, the legislature’s action or inaction will have wide ALR effects. We need you all to amend Section 18 of the Agricultural Land Commission Act.

Let Section 18 forbid “a residence with a floor area of more than 500 square metres” on ALR land. For years and for all of BC, that has been a Ministry of Agriculture suggestion in its Guide for Bylaw Development in Farming Areas.** Make it law!

Then ask the minister to fix the guide advice on how to set local limits. It’s hard to know how to act on gobbledygook like the guide’s “commensurate with urban areas” standard, but Richmond staff found a way. They came up with a farm residence limit of 300 square metres.

Siding with election-expense funders, Richmond council ignored the staff method and embraced the speculator method: to brainstorm “compromises” between the proposed BC limit and infinity. The outcome was ludicrous too.

Beyond passing that BC limit into law, MLAs can’t force any local council to do its part, but the guide could show it how. It could express the “commensurate” principle like this:

In order to direct the largest residential uses to non-farm areas, a municipality may set a lower floor-area limit for ALR residences below the provincial limit. It would typically be the average floor area the municipality permits on urban lots that are zoned for detached houses.

The related Richmond staff calculation of 300 square metres (3,230 square feet, a big house) would serve the purpose. Be aware that a Richmond bylaw already gives farmers an efficient means to be permitted to exceed the local limit if need be. This approach could easily be implemented by municipalities throughout BC.

Be aware, too, that Section 18 of the ALC Act already forbids any building “to be erected on the land except for farm use.” To enforce it, the strict approach (not recommended here) would be to end any and all construction of non-farm residences on ALR farmland.

When ALR speculators protest the updates to the ALC Act and bylaw guide, perhaps you can tell them what they strictly deserve.

Sincerely,
Your faithful ALR***

Bcc: All who respect, defend and help revitalize the ALR. See final note.***

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* This letter was prompted by “Green’s Weaver takes aim at ALR speculation, “ Richmond News, Oct. 18.

** “2.4.6.5.3 Maximum Floor Area—Farm Residences” is on page 19 of the Guide for Bylaw Development in Farming Areas, page 19 (PDF page 26), just before 2.4.7.

*** On ALR behalf, the Garden City Conservation Society wrote this and a recent letter to the Honourable Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, with a “Bcc” to all ALR supporters. The Letter to Ms Popham, written in collaboration with Richmond FarmWatch, addresses this topic in depth.

Garden City Conservation Society and the ALR

October 17, 2017

Introduction: One facet of the Garden City Conservation Society is conservation of ALR land. This recent article recaps that story. Click on the graphic for a large version, which shows the Garden City Conservation Society at Richmond Harvest Fest 2017.

The Garden City Conservation Society embodies a Richmond movement to respect and conserve ALR land for ALR uses: agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness.

In the late 1980s, as the Save Richmond Farmland Society, the movement battled to save Terra Nova, farmland in the northwest corner of Lulu Island. The results include Terra Nova Natural Area and Rural Park, along with the Sharing Farm.

A decade ago, the movement evolved into the Garden City Lands Coalition. With great support from the people of Richmond and beyond, we helped save the Garden City Lands. (At the time, it was a huge federal field of ALR in the Richmond City Centre, with most of it slated for dense development.)

It was also a chosen battlefield for ALR opponents, and its fall would have been a major setback for the ALR in BC. Thanks to the highly effective citizen action, the ALR won, enabling the City to buy the Lands as ALR park.

Our ongoing action has included immense efforts in 2014 that helped limit the harm from the “bill to kill the ALR.”

In our recent return to the Garden City Lands for Richmond Harvest Fest, we carried on the tradition.

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If you are supportive, you’re a “Friend of Garden City,” and there’s a free newsletter, the Garden City e-News, via email about once a month. You can subscribe to the Garden City e-News here. (It is very simple to unsubscribe whenever you want, and your email address is never used for anything else.)

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This article is essentially an excerpt from a recent letter to Lana Popham, BC Minister of Agriculture, from the Garden City Conservation Society with regard to the epidemic of mansions that broke out on ALR land in Richmond this year.

Bountiful Peace—hope for the Peace Valley

December 8, 2015
Some participants in Bountiful Peace—Richmond, Dec. 1, 2015. Arlene Boon photo.

Some participants in Bountiful Peace—Richmond, Dec. 1, 2015. Arlene Boon photo.

As you may know, an event named Bountiful Peace took place in Richmond last week. It was about saving the Peace Valley, and it was a wake-up call. That fertile land has been condemned to be flooded, but hope remains strong.

The Peace River would be blocked at Site C, near Fort St. John, by a hydroelectric dam—higher than Richmond’s tallest buildings and more than a kilometre long. Submerging the valley would change it from carbon sink to greenhouse gas emitter.

Crucially, it would destroy farmland that should help B.C. to adapt to climate change. The warming climate, along with the huge area of excellent soil, should enable the Peace Valley to produce an increasing amount and range of food, bolstering B.C. food security.

It would partly offset declining imports from California’s parched Central Valley as our population and its food needs rise. For British Columbians, the Peace Valley may be less replaceable than the Central Valley.

Unfortunately, we have provincial leaders who’ve skirted the Agricultural Land Commission, which would likely have conserved the Peace farmland, and the B.C. Utilities Commission, which might have rejected the dam. Unhelpfully, our leaders are going all out to flood the valley and not let it address climate change.

Still, if we citizens keep working to grasp and improve the situation, MLAs and potential MLAs will get the message. If the current B.C. government then stops the Site C project, excellent. Since it probably won’t, we need all who might form the next government to commit to cancelling Site C as soon as they take power.

As Bountiful Peace presenters made clear, it’s not too late. There’s site work in progress, but it can be put to new uses if the project is cancelled within 18 months or so. With dramatic timing, the next B.C. election is due in 17 months—on May 9, 2017.

Meanwhile, there’s ongoing legal action by First Nations and landowners. Since flooding the Peace Valley would be as bad for ecology as for agriculture, environmental groups like Sierra Club BC will also stay engaged.

That said, informed action by enough citizens is key. Good springboards include Stop the Site C Dam and the Peace Value Landowner Association’s info page.

Copyright © 2015 Garden City Conservation Society

Copyright © 2015 Garden City Conservation Society

I’ve just taken action by refining my “Keep the Peace” graphic, the issue at a glance. I’ll see if the campaign can use it on buttons or billboards or something in between. In any case, please act too.

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This article also appears as “Take action to keep the Peace,” one of my “Digging Deep” columns in the Richmond Review of December 9, 2015.

For further viewing and reading:

Site C—STOP the dam flood

December 3, 2015

The Bountiful Peace event in Richmond this week went well, and I like the Peace River Environment Association’s website. However, I’m still trying to get a handle on how to do something successful on this very important issue for both farmland conservation and ecological conservation.

There is an existing logo that works very well on a large banner and could work on road signs:

PVEA stop sign logo

It will also help if there’s a graphic means for campaigners to say a bit more than that does in a more compact way. It needs to be scalable to work at all sizes from a text width of just over 1.5 inches in the Richmond News to the 3-inch diameter of a campaign button to bumper-sticker size to 4-foot by 8-foot billboard size (with the graphic using the left half the width of the billboard). As my mind pondered that, this appeared:

Site C: STOP the dam flood. Keep the Peace Valley.

Copyright © 2015, Garden City Conservation Society, Richmond, B.C.

Of course, people viewing the graphic will often need some explanation, which would appear beside the graphic on a billboard but would require campaign button wearers to respond to questions about the graphic, enabling dialogue. They would explain that a dam at the place near Fort St. John called “Site C” would block the Peace River, causing the river to flood the valley to form a long lake that submerges fertile farmland and forest. Hopefully the message is catchy enough to slightly entertain and to get minds moving with a sense of the conservation perspective.

I will offer this to the main campaigners, since Garden City Conservation is just on the periphery. If they want to use it, they will be welcome to do so, with minimal acknowledgement when the occasion arises.

“Bountiful Peace,” Tuesday, Dec 1 in Steveston

November 23, 2015

Arlene and Ken Boon

Flooding that river valley is probably a sin against humanity,” said Richard Bullock, former chair of the Agricultural Land Commission. He was gauging the effect of the impending Site C Dam on B.C.’s Peace River country near Fort St. John.

It’s fertile, and the sun’s summer angle gives the Peace Valley long sunny days to energize crops. And, as climate change takes effect, the crop-growing season there gets warmer and longer.

The aim of the dam is to block the river flow so that a stretch of the Peace Valley becomes a reservoir lake. When freed to fall from the surface onto turbine blades, the water would spin them to generate electric power before flowing on.

Judging from Christy Clark comments, Site C electricity is especially needed for LNG production, which requires an immense amount of power. However the LNG boom is in doubt. What’s more certain is the harm to agriculture and food security if the Site C Dam goes ahead.

The astute “Yellowstone to Yukon” conservation group, which collaborates with Peace conservationists, says this:

The Peace River Valley has 20% of the province’s best topsoil. Its Class 1 and 2 farmlands produce higher crop yields than many of Canada’s prairie regions, and it has the potential to supply fresh fruit and vegetables for a million people.

Yet the B.C. cabinet bypassed the commission and removed 3800 hectares of Peace farmland from the ALR. In effect, they raided our land bank. That endangers our food security at the very time when our California source of fruit and vegetables is drying up.

So what does this mean for us here, and what can we do about it? For a start, we can get some answers at the “Bountiful Peace” event on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at the Steveston Community Centre*. Richard Bullock will speak, as will Peace farmers Arlene and Ken Boon (shown above) and Coun. Harold Steves.

It’s slated for 7–9 pm, including at least 45 minutes for questions. Judging from Kwantlen Sustainable Agriculture’s well-received “Evening with Richard Bullock” in June, that will work well.

Sierra Club BC has organized this chance to learn what’s at stake and how there’s hope. Thanks to Sierra, Garden City Conservation is a co-sponsor, along with the Richmond Food Security Society and Richmond Blue Dot.

There’s no charge, and there’s no need to register. Parking is good in the community centre lot and to the east along Moncton Street.

Even if you’re a Site C dam fan, come along and take part in respectful dialogue. We all just want to be informed so our community and province will have a future worth having.

See you!

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* There will also be a Bountiful Peace” event in Chilliwack on  Wednesday, December 2, 2015.

The Facebook page for the Richmond event is here.

There’s a thorough Stop Site C website.

This column has now also appeared in the Richmond News of Novenber 25, 2015 as “Everyone’s invited to ‘Bountiful Peace’.”

Bullock on speculation, farming and the ALC

August 11, 2015

KPU Bullock 2015-07-28c

Richard-Bullock-at-KPURichard Bullock, the former chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, has never seemed fond of the spotlight, and he literally didn’t get a spotlight (or much lighting at all) when he spoke on the Richmond campus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University recently.

As the photos show, the hall’s attention was directed to the future of agriculture and land use in B.C., with a semi-circle of bovine stakeholders on the screen watching and waiting for us human British Columbians to do the right thing.

Similarly, there wasn’t much media coverage, with just one report showing up when I googled the event. Let’s hope that some of the various people recording the “Evening with Richard Bullock” will share their audio/video soon.

In the meantime, here are a few points I jotted down.

In a sort of theme statement, Richard Bullock emphatically stated, “We’ve got to take the speculative value out of farmland.” Of course, he took the speculation problem in the right direction as ALC chair, and then the provincial Bill to Kill the ALR (Bill 24) reversed the gains and worse, as discussed in the Bill 24 section  of this blog.

When Richard Bullock spoke at length about the experience of farming, he emphasized this statement: “The toughest part of farming is the mental part.” There are so many implications when one reflects on it.

His dream, he said, is sufficiently wide respect for farmland “that the ALC should no longer be necessary.” Since he was speaking in Richmond, it’s too bad that Harold Steves was the only member of council who came. Some of his colleagues are quick to look for ways around the ALR when that suits their purposes. At present, Langford in the Capital Region seems to be the epitome of the problem, while (on the right track) Bowen Island treasures its bit of ALR.

When Richard Bullock was asked about his top three issues related to agriculture, he had to stop and think for a minute. He came up with something like this:

  • Educating about the importance of food
  • Respecting the land and water where we live
  • Enjoying and sharing the bounty that we have

The event had begun with a Salish prayer, and with that answer it seemed to draw to an end with a shared silent prayer or affirmation: Amen.

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Reminder:

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Update, August 12: The Vancouver Sun came out with a Richard Bullock article on today’s page C4 and online here. It was said to be based on the KPU event and an interview. It reads to me as though too much of it came from fishing questions in the interview. To get the best information, one can’t beat being at a Richard Bullock presentation in person.

 

Richard Bullock at KPU Richmond 28 July 2015

July 6, 2015

Do you care about the future of agriculture in British Columbia?

Richard Bullock poster for 28July2015atKPU-Richmond

Richard Bullock at Kalamalka RotaryThe KPU Institute for Sustainable Food Systems invites you to join in an evening of conversation with Mr. Richard Bullock. The former Chair of the B.C. Agricultural Land Commission will share his vision for a strong future. There will then be time for questions and answers, with Mr. Bullock in dialogue with the audience.

  • Tuesday July 28th, 7–9 pm
  •  Kwantlen Polytechnic University:
    8771 Lansdowne Road, Richmond BC
    (north side, west of Garden City Rd).
    Easy access via Canada Line at Lansdowne Station or via Hwy 99 or 91.
  • Room 2550A: Melville Centre for Dialogue

Although admission is freeregistration is required.

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Notes:

Leonard 1, Langford 0, but “It ain’t over. . . .”

July 5, 2015

Frank Leonard isn't out of the woods yetFrank Leonard, as the newish chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, has handled an early challenge well. Langford tried to negotiate a way for owners of Agricultural Land Reserve properties to buy exclusions from the ALR, which is a provincial land-use zone, although they wouldn’t actually pay the province.

The property owners buying exclusions would supposedly pay into an imagined farm-friendly Langford amenity fund, but not necessarily. The rezoning payment—to Langford—would only happen on the occasion of the city further rezoning the excluded land for development. It’s like a 2-for-1 deal, with two exclusions for one payment.

Leonard responded that the ALC would not consider the proposed amenity considerations when making decisions. Good!

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Langford,B.C., in the Capital RegionThat’s the gist of it. Here is some background, along with some links in case you wish to go into depth.

The city of Langford is east of Victoria and Saanich in B.C.’s Capital Region, as shown. (Click the image for a larger version.)

Its council has long stood out, like a sore thumb, as unfriendly to the ALR. It’s no surprise they’ve been quick to test Leonard.

For many years, Frank Leonard was mayor of nearby Saanich, so he knows the Langford situation. If he had gone along with the proposal, it would not have been a misunderstanding, and Leonard and Langford would have inflicted a blow to the ALR. In contrast, Leonard’s dismissal of the idea shows he is doing his job.

I was cautiously optimistic about Leonard in an earlier article, “How is Frank Leonard a viable ALR chair?” It’s still too early to make judgments, but I am typing with a smile.

In the past few weeks, the Times Colonist has published four informative pieces on Langford council’s gambit, the Leonard response and the council’s decision to keep going in the wrong direction:

How Langford could reshape the future of agricultural land

Editorial: Leonard must defend farmland

Agricultural Land Commission won’t accept farm cash for ALR removal

Langford presses ahead on cash-for-ALR-land plan

For a detailed sense of the context, visit our “Bill 24” section, since this is all connected to the “bill to kill the ALR.”

Small pro-ALR actions mount up

June 28, 2015

BCALRcitiesAs you may recall, the Agricultural Land Reserve has been at risk from an anti-ALR faction in the provincial government. We in Richmond keep doing what we can, and it does pay off for the common good. (Note: B.C.’s ALR farmland is shown in green at right.)

As attorney general a few years ago, Geoff Plant of Richmond bolstered the Administrative Tribunals Act. That was to stop governments from dismissing tribunal members without cause or curbing their independence.

When Richard Bullock, chair of the ALR’s tribunal, was fired without cause anyway, we asked West Coast Environmental Law to look into it. They termed it “illegal,” and they wrote the premier about remedies. That will add to Richard Bullock’s moral authority.

Lately the government released its revised ALR regulations. They’re consistent enough with earlier findings from wide and essentially well-done consultation. It revealed that B.C.’s farmers/ranchers, local governments and citizens—like us in Richmond—want a robust ALR. On balance, the new regulations cushion the harm from the anti-ALR bill that the anti-ALR faction managed to force into law last year.

Among other actions, many Richmond citizens have signed the online “Thank You Richard Bullock” card, as requested in my “Standing strong in the bizarre saga of the ALR” column. There are now almost 1,500 signatures of individuals and couples. Each time Richard and his wife Jacqueline receive the card with more signers, they read the names and think about the places and comments. We’re simply treating good people in the way they deserve, but success will come from it too.

Just days ago, Richard and Jacqui told us this: “It is a humbling experience to know that people really do care and really are concerned about our food and agriculture land in this province. We want you to know that the fight is not over and we will do everything humanly possible to insure the safety of our food and the preservation of our farmlands in British Columbia.”

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This post, which builds on Standing strong in the bizarre saga of the ALR,” my Richmond Review column of May 20 that is also on this blog, appeared as a letter in the Richmond Review of June 26 but not yet in the online Review. Just scroll down for more-detailed earlier blog articles on this topic.

2015 ALR regulations reflect Letnick’s consultation

June 23, 2015

Norm Letnick and supporterIn the intra-cabinet struggle over B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve, pro-ALR Norm Letnick, the agriculture minister, has managed to shake off the B.C. cabinet’s anti-ALR faction. That’s evident in the 2015 ALR regulations that are finally public, although it’s too bad he had to terminate ALC Chair Richard Bullock in the bargain.

Previously, in the “Bill 24” section of this blog, I have written favourably about the way Letnick and his ministry team consulted with stakeholders about proposed changes last summer. Naturally the process wasn’t perfect, but it was an immense improvement over the consultation for last spring’s Bill 24, “the bill to kill the ALR.” (Until Letnick became minister at a very late stage, the main consultation consisted of an anti-ALR minister griping with his buddies.)

Although most of the revised regulations are not directly related to the bill to kill the ALR, they will generally reduce the harm from it. That is in keeping with what all the main groups of stakeholders told the Ministry of Agriculture when he was finally in a position to consult them. In the context of genuine consultation, the final step embodied in the regulations shows that Letnick and staff were not just letting people blow off steam but instead were listening in order to act heedfully. There is still a long uphill fight to protect the ALR after the 2014 legislative attack on it, but the final step in the genuine consultation gives reason for hope.

The relatively good new regulations are especially a reason to congratulate all the citizens in British Columbia and beyond who have made their voices heard. While we appreciate those who have listened, a great deal of credit belongs to those who made the strong case that was finally heard. The people spoke out in great numbers with a clear message.

The huge progress so far has been hard won. Let’s celebrate and then proceed with renewed vigour.

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It is hard to find a useful media commentary about the changes. However, the BC Food Systems Network has released an excellent analysis this morning. I don’t see it on the BCFSN website or on Facebook, so here’s the BCFSN news release in PDF. For now at least, I’ll also provide the body of the news release here (below in green) for those who prefer to read it on a web page.

BCFSN News release:
B
C Food Systems Network cautious about new farmland regulations

Vancouver, June 23, 2015 – “We’ve been waiting to exhale,” says Brent Mansfield, Director of the BC Food Systems Network, which represents hundreds of food growers and food security advocates around BC. He is referring to the recently announced changes to regulations under the Agricultural Land Commission Act, which have been pending for nine months.

The Act itself went through significant change in May 2014, over widespread public opposition. The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was divided into two zones and changes were made to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC)’s decision making criteria and structure: six regional panels replaced a single provincial Commission.

Then, in July and August 2014, the provincial government consulted with selected stakeholders on 11 proposed regulatory changes related to activities that could be allowed on farmland without involvement of the ALC. “We were very concerned about some of the government’s proposals which would have opened up ALR land to significant abuse, bypassing the ALC,” says Mansfield. “We are relieved that the most threatening proposals were not adopted and that the Minister heeded concerns raised by stakeholders.”

The new regulations encourage value-adding activities by co-ops and apply the same rules as wineries to breweries, distilleries and meaderies. They will allow landowners to lease portions of their land for agricultural production, and in Zone 2 they introduce, with conditions, life-term leases for retiring farmers, and second single-family dwellings for family or rental income.

Mansfield goes on, “we recognize several of these provisions as good ideas in principle. However we have some outstanding concerns about the leasing options and the second dwelling option, since there will be no supervision from the ALC. We question how and by whom the regulatory conditions will be applied. Could all these provisions apply on one property? If so, how many residences will be possible on a farm? How will impacts on farming be monitored? Will there be any follow-up if there are problems?

“Overall,” says Mansfield “especially given the changes to the Act, we remain very concerned about the direction in which BC farmland protection policy is going. Six regional panels are more susceptible than a single Commission to local development pressures. The two zones and additional decision-making criteria all point to a loosening of oversight and protection of BC’s farmland. The issue of enforcement has not been re-visited.

Finally, the abrupt firing in May of ALC Chair Richard Bullock, six months before the end of his term, increases our unease. Mr Bullock followed the ALC’s mandate and did the job expected of him by the public – protecting farmland with a view to BC’s future farmland and food needs. We will have to wait and see how the legislative and regulatory changes to the ALC play out.”

Trust of farmers and protection of farmland for farming are values esteemed highly by BC citizens, as shown in a September 2014 public opinion poll issued by the Real Estate Foundation and Vancouver Foundation. Farming, growing food and natural freshwater systems rated top priority for land use; loss or development of farmland as top agricultural issue; and reliance on BC food as top food concern. A full 95% of respondents support or strongly support the ALR to preserve BC’s farmland.

Illegally fired Richard Bullock responds with grace

June 22, 2015

Bullock portraitUpdate, June 24, 2015: The Globe and Mail has a relevant article today.

Legally, it appears that Richard Bullock should still be chair of the Agricultural Land Commission. West Coast Environmental Law has made a strong case that firing Bullock without cause was illegal and that it interfered with the independence of the Agricultural Land Commission. You can read about it in WCEL’s blog article and efficiently take action if you wish.

In a letter to the provincial government, West Coast even called on them to reinstate Richard Bullock as chair. Even Bullock would probably not want that, but the lawyers have made the point about what would be legally appropriate.

For his part, Richard Bullock and his wife Jacqueline continue to appreciate the support they receive through the online Thank You Richard Bullock card. They sent this note recently:

We would like to thank all persons that have taken the time to sign and comment on the Thank You card! It is a humbling experience to know that people really do care and really are concerned about our food and agriculture land in this province. We want you to know that the fight is not over and we will do everything humanly possible to insure the safety of our food and the preservation of our farmlands in British Columbia.

Thank you again,
Richard and Jacqui Bullock

Some of our previous articles related to this:

How is Frank Leonard a viable ALR chair?

June 8, 2015
Bill Bennett, Frank Leonard and Richard Bullock

Bill Bennett, Frank Leonard and Richard Bullock

Richard Bullock, the unlawfully fired chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, has wished the best to the person put into his job. Taking the Bullock cue, it’s fitting to wish the best to new ALC chair Frank Leonard.

Still, we’re alert to whether he’ll be a real protector of ALR farmland or a Bennett in Bullock clothing:

  • “Bennett” is Bill Bennett, the bombastic cabinet minister with a long-time crusade against the ALR, as you can see via a search for his name on this blog.
  • Bullock, along with founding ALC chair Gary Runka, is the gold standard for service in that role.

Interviews with Frank Leonard illustrate how hard it is to know what to make of him. Let’s look at an early one, a CBC Radio West interview soon after he was appointed. (It’s dated May 16, 2015.)

Interviewer: In your role now, what will you do, what sort of tack will you take, to ensure that farmland in B.C. is protected?

Frank Leonard: Well, that’s our mandate.

After a bit of wandering, more Frank Leonard: The best way, of course, for them to be preserved is for them to be financially viable too. And many times I hear from owners of farmland, ALR land especially, that they feel they’re carrying a burden for the rest of society, that they can’t earn a living off it, that they have to do other things in their lives to almost moonlight as a farmer, and I want to talk to those folks and help them make it economically viable, and if it’s viable, then the pressure on trying to take it out of the ALR is taken away in my view. So that may be naïve or idealistic, but in the time I have to be chair of the commission, that will be part of my guiding principles.

In a Justine Hunter interview in The Globe and Mail, half a month later (June 2, 2015), Leonard is on the same viability theme. In essence, his carefully chosen words are the same.

Of course, viable in an ALR context has always been code for “economically most lucrative.” A Bennett would allow weasel-word “viability” as grounds for excluding ALR land or allowing incompatible uses to take it over. In contrast, a Bullock wouldn’t abide that.

Frank Leonard is evidently trying to give the impression that he wouldn’t either. Instead, he indicates that he wants to help farmers to make a good living from farming ALR land. That would clearly be in keeping with the purposes of the Agricultural Land Commission. Bullock-like.

However, Leonard’s farmer-as-victim examples are vintage Bennett, whose idea of consulting to gut the Agricultural Land Commission Act was to sit around griping about the ALR with his farmland-owning buddies who don’t want to farm.

It definitely isn’t fair to assume that Frank Leonard is a lapdog for Bennett and the anti-ALR faction with far too much sway in the provincial government. Whether he will rise to the occasion, as ALC chairs typically do, still remains to be seen, but it is certainly possible.

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Postscript—this writer’s optimism:

Like Frank Leonard, I don’t want to be naïve and will keep an open mind. However, I’m optimistic for an unusual kind of reason: his background as a Kal Tire manager.

Long ago, I happened to help Kal Tire with a workforce performance improvement project prompted by their intent to expand fast, which meant coming up with a lot of additional managers who would maintain their high standards. I found that Kal Tire didn’t need to do much more than revise their store operations manual to make it a great job aid, and it was pleasantly interesting to work with their VP of stores to do that.

Their president was still co-founder Tom Foord, past retirement age but loving his work and encouraging the whole Kal Tire team to make a profit so Kal Tire could continue to provide good service. From the personal experience, I actually found that ideal to be believable.

Far from thinking that the Kal Tire background is irrelevant for Frank Leonard in his new role, I’d like to think he’s still a Kal Tire manager at heart. In that case, he’ll be far more of a Bullock than a Bennett.

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Thank You Richard Bullock card: You can still sign a virtual card to express support for Richard Bullock, who did such a great job for the people of British Columbia as a true champion of farmland and farming families. Please do so. For background, you could read “Standing strong in the bizarre saga of the ALR.”

The best media re the betrayal of Richard Bullock

May 29, 2015

Bullock-portraitThe firing without cause of Agricultural Land Commission chair Richard Bullock was cleverly timed for just before the May long weekend. While that reduced the media scrutiny, some media covered it well.

Reviewing it prepares us for the next wave, because that story and related attacks on the ALR will come back, probably soon.

The best news story is Mark Hume’s “B.C. government fires outspoken chair of Agricultural Land Commission” in the Globe & Mail.

The quick but thorough overview is my Richmond Review column titled “Standing strong in the bizarre saga of the ALR.” You can reach it by scrolling down on this blog.

CBC Radio did two illuminating interviews with Richard Bullock:

  • The CBC Daybreak Kelowna interview, “’They screwed this organization badly,’ says former ALC chair Richard Bullock.”
  • The BC Almanac (Vancouver) interview, which brings out Richard Bullock’s view of the B.C. Cabinet’s removal of a vast area of Peace River ALR farmland as a step toward the highly debatable Site C dam.

They had more trouble bringing much out of the replacement chair, Frank Leonard, but read “How is Frank Leonard a viable ALR chair?” You could also click on the audio below the Frank Leonard photo here to hear for yourself.

Of course, it’s still great to visit the virtualThank You Richard Bullock” card and consider signing it. At this moment, the number of signers (mostly individuals) is over 1,350. A lot of people to sign a Thank You card! Richard Bullock reads all the names and notices whereabouts the signers live. He’s very appreciative.

Standing strong in the bizarre saga of the ALR

May 19, 2015

Richard Bullock at Kalamalka RotaryOn May 14, Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), was furtively fired from that Agricultural Land Reserve tribunal for doing his job. With cabinet misfits biting at his ankles, he had stood up for farming and the ALR, which has protected B.C. farmland for over forty years.

Does it matter? Yes! The California water crisis makes the ALR more vital than ever. Meanwhile, an anti-ALR faction in cabinet endangers our farmland. They’ve now thwarted the tribunal by removing its chair—with more than half a year left in his term.

Why was Bullock appointed ALC chair? Results! He had succeeded as leader of agricultural companies, industry groups and the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board. And he lived the ALR principles.

What went well in Bullock’s term? A lot! In 2010, he led a province-wide ALR review, along with the agriculture minister. He melded the resulting insights with the auditor general’s advice in his thorough strategic vision. It was a blueprint to modernize the ALC/ALR.

For instance, he refined an application panel approach—with seven commissioners from all over B.C.—that kept the diversity of regional panels but shed their inconsistency. He also brought back ALR boundary reviews, an efficient way to exclude (or add) ALR land that’s out of place. His ongoing reports showed steady progress.

What went wrong? Bill Bennett. In early August 2013, when the ALC was conducting East Kootenay boundary reviews, Bennett grabbed the headlines to complain about ALC decisions that annoyed him and his buddies. He was the local MLA and the minister responsible for mines and a murky “core review,” and he threatened to drag the ALC into it.

Then what? In March 2014, Bennett held a media briefing in Victoria to hype a coming ALR bill with his anti-ALC complaints. None stand up to analysis. For instance, Bennett complained that a buddy wasn’t allowed to extend a gravel pit on an ALR farm, but it turned out that Bennett’s own mines ministry had rejected it. A Cranbrook farm owner Bennett brought in to castigate the ALC turned out to want to build a motel or prison on ALR farmland.

Was the ALR bill as bad as that? Yes! It’s been aptly called “the bill to kill the ALR.” For instance, the new “Zone 2” would turn most of the ALR into an “Anything Land Reserve.” A suffocating factor for the ALC was the layers of bureaucratic busy-work the bill imposed. Despite a public uproar, it got pushed through.

What averted disaster? Norm Letnick. After settling in as agriculture minister, Letnick swept some of the damage aside and teamed with Bullock to consult around B.C. on ALR regulations last summer. The government’s summary showed that the stakeholder groups—farmers/ranchers, local governments and the public—all want a strong ALR/ALC. We looked forward to regulations in that spirit.

Then what happened? The regulations, due in November 2014, are six months late, so Letnick has likely faced a long struggle in cabinet. Now they’ve disabled the ALC’s independence by firing Bullock. It all bodes ill for the coming ALR regulations.

What values can we still affirm in hope? We believe in food security for all. We believe in conserving our farmland for present and future needs, not for land speculation. We appreciate true public servants like Richard Bullock who help us make our province better.

How can one give due thanks? Google “Thank you, Richard Bullock!” You’ll reach a virtual Thank You card. Sign your name. That’s a good start.

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This article was earlier published online as a Richmond Review column with the same title, and it appeared in the printed paper of May 20. In place of Richard Bullock, Frank Leonard was appointed as Chair of the Agricultural Land Commission.

Encore: The bill to kill the ALR

May 18, 2015

In April 2014, this article appeared as one of my “Digging Deep” columns in the Richmond Review, in print and online. Because the Review is now in a different newspaper chain, the online version is gone. I’m therefore belatedly publishing it here for everyone’s reference, exactly as it appeared then. Be aware that all the links worked at the time, but many of them target pages that have now been removed or change, especially on the ALC website. The photo shows Richard Bullock interacting with a group of citizens.

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The bill to kill the ALR

Richard Bullock, ALC chairB.C.’s current Bill 24 would end the fragile independence of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). Through that and direct means, it would end ALR farmland protection as we know it.

It also smacks of reprisal against the chair of the ALC. This past year he’s had to rebuff political interference, at one point publicly.

The bill to kill the ALR is not yet law. The ALR—B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve—can still be saved and strengthened.

To get to the source of the mess, let’s recall the day Bill 24 was unveiled. Minister Bill Bennett held a media party. He “could not contain his excitement,” says Vaughn Palmer.

Proud papa Bennett is not an ALR fan, and the pretense for Bill 24 is a gimmick called “ALR core review.” Since no one gets to see it, the “review” is as bad as he wants.

To be fair, Bennett did get ideas from his Kootenay East constituents. At the media event, one of them said her children might build a prison or motel on ALR land.

Bennett said, “If I was going to point to one aspect of the ALC that people in my region really don’t like, it’s the fact that they apply and they get turned down by, essentially, bureaucrats who live in the Lower Mainland.” Stirs local pride, but false.

As the Agricultural Land Commission website shows, ALC commissioners live in five of the six regions. There’s one apiece in the Kootenay region and South Coast, which includes the Lower Mainland. The ALC panels meet in their regions.

Bennett implied that Cranbrook, where he lives, has no local food. But the ALC’s Cranbrook commissioner produces free-range beef.

Bennett said the bill would allow farmers to do “canning or making jams or cheese or wine.” What? Within reason they’ve always been ALR uses.

Bennett complained that a constituent was stopped from mining gravel. But it was the mines ministry that turned it down. That’s Bennett’s ministry.

Bennett whined about bad local land stuck in the ALR. But the ALC is doing an ALR boundary review in Kootenay East. It implements the Auditor General’s advice, and Bennett may have slowed it to a standstill. He then blames the ALC for problems they were solving.

Bennett did admit confusion and mentioned he didn’t consult for Bill 24. True! He didn’t even consult the ALC chair, Richard Bullock.

Bullock is a successful farmer, business leader and public servant. It shows in his ALC work, a model of best practice.

Bullock became chair in mid-2010, just before the Auditor General’s report on the ALC. Starting with that, he consulted around the province.

Bullock wrote a thorough strategic vision. Since then, he keeps sharing updates about process and progress. Sadly, he had to issue a policy statement about the role of elected officials in applications to the ALC—prompted by political interference.

Now, analysis shows that Bill 24 demotes Bullock’s role. It transfers the duty of chairing the ALC tribunal to six chairs. In effect, that shift results in six tribunals with differing standards. Bullock isn’t allowed to chair any.

He is left out. The vague bill is clear about that. He will no longer be even consulted when the ministry selects ALC commissioners and panel chairs.

Bullock also acts as chief executive, but he’s to lose that too. The bill, which does nil for farmland and farming, does promise him waves of rules and requirements.

The ALR is a provincial land use zone. The bill slices it into two and then six. In zoning terms, we’ll have ALR1A, ALR1B, ALR1C, ALR2A, ALR2B and ALR2C.

The bill enables the agriculture minister to quickly take control of the tribunals. Not that it matters in ALR2A–C, nine-tenths of the ALR. Self-serve rubber stamps might do.

Why? The bill says the tribunals there must consider “economic, social and cultural values,” which means “anything,” in ALR decisions. Welcome to the Anything Land Reserve.

Is the California drought a myth? Is it time to kill the ALR? If no, what’s next?

It may help that Norm Letnick has become Minister of Agriculture. Perhaps the powers-that-be will now back Richard Bullock’s integrity with their integrity.

Something’s fishy—”New chair appointed to Agricultural Land Commission”

May 14, 2015

Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, listens to the Kalamalka Rotary.

Update: Listen to Richard Bullock’s comments on the future of the ALR in his CBC Daybreak Kelowna interview. As the now-former Chair of the Agricultural Land Commission puts it, “They screwed this organization badly.”

Over 1,250 people have now signed the virtual Thank You Richard Bullock card. Excellent!

To see the version of the card sent to Richard Bullock at the milestone of 1,001 signers, click here.

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Out of the blue, there’s a Ministry of Agriculture news release this afternoon: “New chair appointed to the Agricultural Land Commission.”

There’s not a word about what happened to Richard Bullock (shown at right), who is still shown as chair on the Agricultural Land Commission website even though the news release explicitly links to the ALC website “for more information.”

Until now, the end of Richard Bullock’s term as chair was indicated to be November 30, 2015. He had done a tremendous job for the people of British Columbia despite abominable treatment by the government.

Things seemed to get much better after Hon. Norm Letnick was well settled in again as Minister of Agriculture and leading the consultation that limited the harm from the dreadful 2014 Bill 24, “the bill to kill the ALR.” Now he has disappeared like a favourite uncle in North Korea.

Fortunately, it came out that the government has only fired Richard Bullock. Still, the news release states in all seriousness that “The ALC is an independent administrative tribunal responsible for administering the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve.” That was stated right after the B.C. cabinet appointed a new chair and then dismissed the existing chair almost half a year before the end of his appointment. If that is consistent with the tribunal being independent, the word independent has taken on a strange new meaning.

One thing we can all do is thank Richard Bullock for standing up for our future as a steadfast guardian of the Agricultural Land Reserve. We have a virtual Thank You card that you can sign. We’ll make sure that Richard Bullock receives it with all the signatures soon. Please go the Thank You Richard Bullock card now and tell others about it.

For background, see the Bill 24 section of this blog.

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Updates: There’s now an excellent Globe and Mail article by Mark Hume that sheds light on what happened. Before that there was a New Democrat press release that says Richard Bullock was fired. In between, there was the usual nonsense from the anti-ALR Tom Fletcher of Black Press.

New agri-food committee would best be unpartisan

January 23, 2015

Update, March 13, 2015: The committee will hear submissions and respond to them at Williams Lake in the afternoon and evening of April 8, 2015. Good step!

Vicki Huntington, B.C. MLA and Vice Chair, Opposition Standing Committee on Agriculture and FoodUpdate, Jan 29, 2015:Independent MLA joins Opposition Standing Committee on Agriculture and Food,” says the headline of a media release, referring to MLA Vicki Huntington (left). It’s also what we suggested in this article six days ago.

I heard from the New Democrat agriculture leaders, MLAs Lana Popham and Nicholas Symons, and I gather from them that they were thinking that way all along. It’s great that they acted and Ms. Huntington accepted. Her years of advocacy for the environment and farmland make her a worthy vice chair.

The promising committee has clearly been in tune with informed community thinking from the beginning, and that bodes well for the six team members living up to the committee’s great potential. One can feel increasingly confident that the committee will effectively gather, analyze and act on informed input from the people of British Columbia. Congratulations on the great start, Lana and team!

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BC legislatureThe official opposition in the B.C. legislature has announced the Opposition Standing Committee on Agriculture and Food. The committee won’t have a direct effect on legislation, but it can bring together the informed opinions of farmers, consumers and everyone else who cares.

So far, there are five committee members (shown in order below):

  • Lana Popham, MLA Saanich South
  • Raj Chouhan, MLA Burnaby-Edmonds
  • Katrine Conroy, MLA Kootenay West
  • Robin Austin, MLA Skeena
  • Nicholas Simons, MLA Powell River-Sunshine Coast

Lana Popham MLARaj Chouhan MLAKatrine Conroy MLARobin Austin MLANicholasSimonsMLA

The announcement implies that Lana Popham is the chair. Her long record of informed leadership and consultation on issues of agriculture and food make her a good choice. The other committee members seem suitable too.

Unfortunately, all five of the announced members are NDP. That gives the committee an overly partisan appearance.

Vicki Huntington MLAAndrew Weaver MLAIt will be far less partisan and more effective if the NDP leader and Ms. Popham can persuade Vicki Huntington (Independent) and Andrew Weaver (Green) to accept positions on the committee, ideally with Ms. Huntington as vice chair. Both would bring commitment, expertise and skill to their roles.

Ms. Huntington is MLA for Delta South. Dr. Weaver is MLA for Oak Bay–Gordon Head. They would deserve highly respectful treatment from the committee’s NDP majority. Since neither would consent to becoming window dressing, the committee would need to go beyond politics to statesmanship.

Background: The B.C. legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Agriculture has not met since 2001, and it was especially missed when the irresponsible Bill 24, “the bill to kill the ALR,” was passed without public consultation in 2014.

Thanks to a new minister of agriculture, provincial treatment of agriculture has improved since then, but the harmful effects of the bill, now part of the Agricultural Land Commission Act, will linger unless and until most of the Bill 24 changes get changed for the better.

Dealing with dumping on B.C./Richmond ALR

November 4, 2014

alr_dump 2
Today’s Glenda Luymes’ article about dumping on the ALR informs a wider audience about the widespread problem.

The Garden City Conservation Society addressed it at the end of our three-page submission to the ALR Regulation Consultation in August 2014.

We wrote:

GCCS-to-ALC-2014-08-22

Near the end of the Province article, the Ministry of Agriculture indicates that increased funding in 2011 allowed the ALC to “increase enforcement.” However, that funding only partially offset years of decreased funding. To begin to address the rampant dumping, the ministry needs to keep working with the ALC toward efficiency, in contrast to the legislated inefficiency in Bill 24, the bill to kill the ALR that was passed in May.

In addition, funding for ALR enforcement continues to be needed. The ministry did well with its consultation this summer, and it needs to keep up the good work by acting on what it was told about, including the rampant dumping that Garden City Conservation brought to their attention.

I was just about to post this when it occurred to me to mention how to get action in Richmond: In my personal view, the way is to elect a set of councillors like the ones I suggested in a recent article.

Richmond could learn from ALR consultation

October 18, 2014

Note: This column and the one above it were published as “Digging Deep” columns in the Richmond Review. I’m adding them here in th“2014 Richmond election” category because consultation is an issue.   If you’re reading both, the message will be clearest if you start with the above one.

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Norm LetnickIt’s great when government gets it right. Minister Norm Letnick and his Ministry of Agriculture team have done it again with their consultation about ALR regulations.

In Digging Deep two months ago, I said the consultation seemed genuine, and I implied it was worth taking part. Plenty of citizens—from here and all regions—did act. The newly shared results seem fine for food security.

A faction in B.C.’s governing party may still hinder the process, which reduces harm from a previous minister’s Bill 24. In the spring, they rammed that ALR bill into law in defiance of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) and the public. This time around, the new minister has involved the ALC and public.

As a bonus, Richmond can learn from the ministry consultation. With that in mind, let’s focus on a few aspects.

For engagement to become consultation, it has to be heeded. For me, the ministry’s heeding began early on when I let the project leader know about a survey flaw and a way to fix it. She acted fast, making the survey results more reliable.

Before that, the minister and his team had heeded those who could help them get their bearings. The know-how came from the B.C. Agriculture Council, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and especially the ALC. It led to a dozen useful questions about regulations. The ALC also cleaned up clutter to keep things simple.

Then the ministry team, ALC included, toured the province to listen to the range of stakeholders in each region. The twelve questions were the framework. For the final month, an online survey was added, with public input on the questions welcome by email and mail too. Along the way, the team engaged with First Nations.

From the thorough summary of responses, I’m confident that views were weighed well. For example, form letters got less weight than individual responses but were still heeded. Since almost all the questions start with proposed changes, the summary shows the big for-and-against picture for each. A wealth of subtler findings fills it out.

I compared the results with an incisive analysis the B.C. Food Systems Network had done. The BCFSN, which excels at policy analysis, is a foremost champion of B.C. food security. In the big picture, the survey results didn’t differ much from the BCFSN choices.

Since polls show terrific support for the ALR and food security, I would expect the broad results from well-done consultation to be consistent with the BCFSN analysis. The achieved consistency builds confidence in the next phase, implementation, where heeding matters most.

The consultation for Bill 24 was mostly ministers chatting with their buddies, and the current related consultation is a sea-change from that. A key factor is the new minister who makes the most of the ALC, all sorts of stakeholders, and ministry talent—resources that were there all along.

In Richmond, the sea-change from deficient consultation will require a proactive council with the courage to set firm expectations for staff, including valid consultation that builds on the best of local know-how.

A final caution: Be aware that the ministry consultation about ALR regulations only reduces the harm from the ALR bill that prompted it. That ugly monument to non-consultation should still be scrapped.

Hurray for the ALR consultation results!

October 1, 2014

The Ministry of Agriculture has published a thorough analysis of its public consultation about changes to the ALR Regulation, which accompanies the Agricultural Land Commission Act.

It is gratifying to see that so many respondents throughout British Columbia have put so much thought into their input. I was particularly happy to see in the responses to question after question that there was general agreement on the kinds of views that I and the B.C. Food Systems Network and the Garden City Conservation Society came up with.

The results also amount to a massive vote of confidence in the Agricultural Land Commission. An example: A number of times, respondents around the province expressed agreement about an update in principle but cautioned that the particular situations should still be approved by the ALC. I don’t think we were trying to vote, but we did have confidence in the ALC, and that came through quite powerfully.

If you would like to go through the results yourself, you could start with the press release, “Summary of consultation on ALCA regulations now online.” It will link you to the Summary of Stakeholder Input.

You may have read my August article titled “Consultation is limiting Bill 24 harm to ALR.” There were other informed people who bemoaned some shortcomings of the consultation, and I did point some out to the project leader, who actually made a very helpful change right away when that was possible without compromising the survey reliability.

Norm LetnickThis new stage, the consultation summary, is well done again. It will win over some doubters. Now we just have to hope the process stays in the hands of agriculture minister Norm Letnick and the capable project team.

The consultation was prompted by Bill 24, “the bill to kill the ALR.” Bill 24 cried out for an antidote, and the consultation is a timely one. For lots of articles that fill out the story of Bill 24 and this subsequent step, go to our Bill 24 section.

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Update, October 3: I notice that Black Press legislative reporter/columnist Tom Fletcher has an article summarizing the ALR consultation results. It is actually useful, in contrast to Fletcher’s columns on Bill 24 and the ALR consultation. It is titledOpposition strong to expanded farm uses.”

95% support ALR in new B.C. poll

September 17, 2014

BC-agrifood-2014The BC Food Systems Network (BCFSN) has announced the results of a BC public opinion poll that shows strong support for local farmland.

This poll was commissioned in the  belief that the changes proposed under Bill 24 to dismantle the Agriculture Land Reserve would not be supported widely in BC. BCFSN thanked the Real Estate Foundation and Vancouver Foundation, “who got behind this initiative.”

Some of the results:

95% of respondents say the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) should be preserved for green space and growing food

76% either agree or strongly agree that the ALR is important, not only for protecting farms, but also for protecting valleys and green space needed for wildlife habitat and recreational enjoyment.

80% are concerned about dependence on other countries for our food security

73% say the ALR is a cornerstone of food security and the BC economy.

When asked what priority uses for land in British Columbia were, respondents identified “natural freshwater systems” (83%), closely followed by “farming and growing food” (81%).

If you wish to read further, there’s a press release and the full report, BC Public Attitudes Toward Agriculture and Food 2014.