Archive for the ‘News Analysis’ Category

Bill 24 is rotten to the core

April 18, 2014

Update, April 23: The heading of a Sun article says a lot: “Minister promises B.C.-wide consultation before ALR changes: Bill could be changed or withdrawn, Norm Letnick says after daylong meeting with farmers’ group:”

Update, April 21: I have just highlighted one paragraph below by means of red type. It is the crucial effect of Bill 24 and related conduct that Bill Bennett (and others who have been enlisted) has successfully kept below the radar, even though it is in keeping with known intentions.That is one reason why it is so important to support Richard Bullock and the ALC team with the Thank You Richard Bullock online card (beyond the basic aspect that they have earned our appreciation). It is at

As has seemed logical for days, new agriculture minister Norm Letnick will be meeting with stakeholders about Bill 24 soon (on Wednesday, April 23). Naturally he has to act as though the intent is to adapt it on the basis of the consultation that should have been done long ago. However, one of his fondest hopes in life right now must be that the bill to kill the ALR will go away. If the stakeholders advocate that, there will be happiness all round.

Bill 24 is rotten to the core.I’ve discussed this in detail on this blog. Here’s a précis version:

Bill 24, the bill to kill the ALR, is rotten to the core. Throughout, it reduces the independence of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) and the authority of the chair. Every effect on farmland protection is for the worse. The parts that seem okay are not really changes.

The current chair, Richard Bullock, is a successful farmer, business leader and public servant who has streamlined the commission for results. That has happened in collaboration with agriculture ministers after thorough public consultation and with ongoing reports on progress, made public on the ALC website.

In contrast, the bill would tie up the ALC in knots of directions from the Ministry of Agriculture. The chair, who has been able to veto appointments to the commission, would have no say. Since the bill multiplies the commissioners, politicians could have lackeys in control of the ALC executive committee and panels within two months.

The commission was making progress in ALR boundary reviews, an efficient way to meet real needs. The ALR regulations are also overdue for updating, and the new minister and ALC chair could work with the agricultural industry on that. The bill, not the ALR, should die.

Update, April 23, 2014: Part of this article has now been published in The Vancouver Sun as “Put Bill 24 out to pasture: Agricultural Land Reserve needs to provide more, not less protection,” page B6.


The bill to kill the ALR

April 15, 2014


B.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.

(The map shows the ALR in green.)

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.

Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, listens to the Kalamalka Rotary.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 helps that Norm Letnick, who doesn’t hate the ALR, has become Minister of Agriculture. Maybe the powers-that-be will now back Richard Bullock’s integrity with their integrity.


In any case, we can add our names on the online thank you card” to Richard Bullock and his ALC team. Each day, as more people give thanks, the Bullock team receives their names.

Now that we have an agriculture minister who would like to listen, a copy of the Thank You card is going to Norm Letnick each day too.


This post is based on my Digging Deep column in the Richmond Review titled “Value the chair of the Anything Land Reserve (ALR).”

Can Letnick strengthen the ALR again?

April 11, 2014
B.C.'s new-again Minister of Agriculture, Norm Letnick, has a lot to clean up.

B.C.’s new-again Minister of Agriculture, Norm Letnick, has a lot to clean up.

It is a good thing that B.C. has a new agriculture minister. He is Norm Letnick, who is also a former agriculture minister. Letnick was in that role for a few months prior to the May 2013 provincial election.

The 2013 pre-election budget had included some additional funding for the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). It was a step in the right direction that gave a false signal of support for the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

As soon as the election had passed, Letnick was replaced. Not long after that, his replacement and another cabinet minister, Bill Bennett, began making clumsy threats against the ALR. We analyzed that in early August 2013 in “Core Review minister fumbles ALR.”

Bennett, who seemed to have put himself in the driver’s seat, was openly acting on long-standing bias against the ALR, so it seemed natural that he would be restrained from further inappropriate behaviour. No such luck. The ALC was mistreated, and Bennett, along with a stand-in for the agriculture minister, managed to introduce bad ALR legislation in March 2014.

That is still at the bill stage, which means it is not yet law. I’ve analyzed it in the Richmond Review in “Value the chair of the Anything Land Reserve (ALR).” In brief, it is bad for farmland protection and for farmers—other than ones trying to get out of farming and act like farmland speculators. It would turn the ALC into a paperwork bureaucracy at increased expense.

To a great extent, it depends on the premier whether Letnick can end the bill to kill the ALR and instead strengthen the weakened Agricultural Land Commission. However, it is possible to see Letnick as he saw himself in the Minister of Agriculture role, since he wrote a column about it in his local paper in March 2013.

As for the replaced agriculture minister, Pat Pimm, he unfortunately has to deal with colon cancer. Naturally he has our sympathy in that, and we wish him a full recovery.


At the same time, ALC chair Richard Bullock and his team deserve our sympathy and support too. Please sign the online Thank You card. While thanking them, you will be speaking up for a strengthened Agricultural Land Commission.


Update, April 12, 2014, message to Hon. Norm Letnick:

Welcome back, Norm Letnick! The province is glad to see you.
You face a bigger job than before:
  • The bill to kill the ALR is still ticking and will set B.C. back half a century if it explodes.
  • The undermining of ALC chair Richard Bullock and his team has done great harm on a human level as well as the ALR level.
You were part of some funding restoration before the election, so you’ll get a short “honeymoon” away from critics. I’ve expressed that in “Can Letnick strengthen the ALR again?” at
As an informed participant in ALR matters, I will donate two suggestions so you can succeed right away:
1.Find a dignified way for Bill 24 to die.
2.Thank Richard Bullock,

ALC changes threaten BC food security

March 27, 2014

Arzeena HamirThis is a news release received from Arzeena Hamir. It was sent on behalf of the BC Food Systems Network:

News Release: 27 March 2014

Core Review ALC Changes Threaten BC’s Food Security
Agriculture Advocates Respond to Bill 24

Victoria—Like forests and water, our foodlands are a public trust. We must retain agricultural land for a food secure future.

Changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and Commission (ALC) announced today in the Legislature refer to regional differences, fertile land and benefits for BC farmers. A common interpretation of the “fertile land” and two-zone emphasis from the Premier and Ministers is the Okanagan and Fraser Valleys and southern Vancouver Island as deserving of more protection and the rest of the province less. What this does is to weaken protection for 90 per cent of lands currently in the ALR.

Less than five percent of BC`s total land base is suitable for agriculture and protected in the Agricultural Land Reserve. “This is potentially disastrous: it could leave just one-half of one per cent (0.5%) of BC’s land base with the present standard of farmland protection,” said Brent Mansfield, Co-Chair of the BC Food Systems Network (BCFSN). “That is not enough!”

It also raises questions about agricultural lands in BC’s north. “We already know that we will have to look north for food production as growing seasons change due to the effects of climate change, such as the present drought in California,” said Co-chair Abra Brynne. “Almost half of the ALR lands are in the north, with 72 per cent of BC’s remaining prime quality lands in the Peace River Valley. Future generations cannot afford to lose that food growing potential. There is just too much at stake.”

The ALR has earned broad public support over 40 years. As well as preserving farmland, it is a key element of regional and community planning, defining urban containment boundaries. “Cannibalizing the ALR – with two zones and six regional panels – is no way to improve it,” said Brynne. She questioned the process that led to these changes. “The Core Review process promised but did not deliver public consultation,” she stated. “Farm and food organizations, local governments and the Agricultural Land Commission itself have not had a proper opportunity for dialogue.”

Given the importance of access to both land and water for food production, this rushed and unusual process is a marked contrast to the public consultation process undertaken before introduction of the Water Sustainability Act. “We understand that farmers need more flexibility from the farmland protection system for succession planning and for agriculture-related ancillary businesses,” said Mansfield. “But the methods need more discussion.”

The BCFSN calls on the government to set this Bill aside and consult properly with stakeholders and the public on any changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act, just as it did with the Water Sustainability Act. Let’s find a way to work together to update a province-wide farmland protection system for the 21st century that will serve food producers and support food security for all British Columbians.


BC government press release on this matter, March 27, 2014

Related articles on this blog:

Richard Bullock wows with new message

March 16, 2014

Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission of British Columbia

Update: For the latest re Richard Bullock, go here.

Richard Bullock is determined to keep improving the Agricultural Land Commission despite obstacles put in his path by cabinet ministers who should be on his side. (See previous articles for details.) That is evident in the recent Message from the Chair of March 2014.

Two of the highlights for me:

  • It’s great that the ALC is in the process of hiring two professional agrologists specializing in soil sciences. The unfilled need for staff agrologists was evident in the exclusion applications of 2005 and 2008 for the Garden City Lands and again with the Finn Road dumping situation that Richmond’s FarmWatch has addressed so diligently for over a year. Staff agrologists are even more essential when the ALC is doing ALR boundary reviews, with the need for extensive reliable assessment.
  • Along with timely reviews of key information, the thirteen-page message is filled with initiatives and accomplishments. It is amazing that the commission can accomplish it all with its tiny budget of under $3 million, minimal human resources. Ever since the current core review of B.C. government services was announced, I’ve thought that the ALC should be a focus as a model of best practices. From the new message from the chair, the suitability of the ALC as that sort of model is all the more striking.

Summerland pro-ALR campaign scores again

February 17, 2014

Erin CarlsonMarch 4 update: Listen to follow-up CBC radio interviews. Clearly the March 3 public hearing went well. The Save Summerland’s Agricultural Land people had scored big in an earlier CBC interview. Young leader Erin Carlson respectfully decimated attempts to discredit the group’s online petition.

The Summerland Council is trying sleight-of-hand to get fertile farmland out of the ALR for development. Apparently hoping that no one would notice, they’re trying a two-step process to turn the Agricultural Land Commission’s approval to take some marginal land out of the ALR (a few years ago) into approval to take out far better farmland instead now.

It’s not a terrible thing to do, but it’s in a grey area at best. And ALR land speculators around B.C. must be drooling in anticipation if they think the tactic may succeed.

If you’d like further background before watching the very worthwhile ten-minute video, try “Bravo to ‘Stop the Swap‘.” Also, Erin has a significant role in “Gratefulness can heal threats to the ALR legacy.”

The earlier video is Summerland swap attracts controversyCBC Radio’s Daybreak South, Chris Walker interview, Monday, February 17, 2014.

I think the audience would quickly pick up on the irony of the critics who are hiding their identity questioning the validity of signers who are providing their identity.

In response to criticism that many of the signers don’t live in Summerland, Erin offered some analysis of the more than two thousand signers. (Checking right now, I see that the number has risen to 2,130 online signers, and I gather than many people have signed on paper too.)

I mentally turned Erin’s figures into fractions:

  • More than nine-tenths of the signers live in B.C.
  • Roughly half of those live in Summerland.

Along with the large number of local citizens, the large number from beyond Summerland reflects the harm to the whole province if Summerland council’s sleight-of-hand succeeds. Council members that listen would ask themselves why people around the province are concerned: the precedent would have wide effect. Treating non-Summerland British Columbians as nothings just makes the rejection of public input seem worse.

The CBC’s follow-up interview was with Dr. Jonathan White, Professor of Sociology, Bentley University, on the topic of online surveys, one of his areas of expertise. He explained:

It’s a low-cost way for average citizens to fight what almost always amounts to a better-resourced opponent.

The people in power are feeling a power shift, and they’re attacking the very method being employed by online activists, rather than defending their position on the issue, as perhaps they know they won’t win on a level playing field.

So the Summerland power-wielders are (a) using a questionable tactic with ALR land and (b) upset about democracy in action. Definitely makes one happy to be on the pro-ALR side!

Welcome, Hua Foundation!

January 31, 2014

ClaudiaLiLocal environmentalist Claudia Li recently founded the Hua Foundation with other young adult leaders with a Chinese-Canadian cultural background.

Hua’s Bard Suen will implement an intercultural food literacy program that includes producing a seasonal Asian produce guide. As a practical start, Bard is digging up answers to this question: “Where can we get local and pesticide-free bak choi?

The Hua Foundation is building on Claudia’s experience with Shark Truth, which addresses the slaughter for shark fin soup in a constructive, culturally sensitive and successful way. For more, visit the Hua website and/or sign up for their newsletter.

End the Bennett-Pimm havoc!

January 24, 2014

Fort St. John landowner built rodeo against ALC ruling

In its own good time, the  Agricultural Land Commission has now taken strong enforcement action on the Fort St. John farmland shown above. It gives occasion to review the ongoing kerfuffle that requires the ALC to act with such a firm hand and prompts many of us to be vigilant. Here goes.


Havoc has a life of its own.

The present time of havoc on the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) began six months ago when B.C. Ministers Bill Bennett and Pat Pimm made a fuss.

Dream landscape moon wallpapers

It stirred the blood of those who dream of farmland as what it could be for them if it only it were only liberated from the ALC, the tribunal responsible for B.C.’s land bank, the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

mad viking 1mad viking 2I wrote about this at the beginning of August 2013 in “Core Review minister fumbles ALR.” That was after Minister Bennett, with Minister Pimm in tow, cried havoc in the Bennett riding, Kootenay East. As the article shows, they undermined the commission with examples that didn’t even fit with their complaints:

  • In one case, the commission had supported the intent of an ALR-exclusion application but still rejected the application. There was a better ALR way for the farm family to meet the intent. In fact they had already done so, with commission staff help, by the time of the outcry. As far as I can tell, it had been a win-win. (The commission avoided pointless carving up of the farm, and the family was still able to add a retirement home for the parents when the next generation took charge of the farm business.) Bennett managed to frame the matter as a problem. When politicians manipulate reality to put each other down, it’s like fighting in hockey between “willing combatants,” but doing it to the ALC is like a burly hockey league executive instigating a fight with a mild-mannered referee.
  • In the other case, a couple had a problem with the Kootenay River overflowing its banks, eroding their ranch. We sympathize, but it is not the ALC’s role to troubleshoot and fix that sort of problem. In contrast, it is something Pimm could have constructively addressed himself as Minister of Agriculture. The incident was like a second hockey league executive, in tandem with the first instigator, blaming the referee for a cancelled game after the visiting team started out too late to get there before a storm stopped them. Strengthening the preventive steps would be the league executives’ role, not a referee’s.

Furthermore, it seemed that the two ministers were unaware the commission was well into its Elk Valley boundary review, the first in a series of five ALR boundary reviews of the entire Regional District of East Kootenay. (Note: Most or all of the five are now underway, and there has always been a prominent link to the East Kootenay reviews on the ALC home page.)

The regional district is a large area (over 27,500 square kilometres) in the southeastern corner of British Columbia, as highlighted on this map.

Regional District of East Kootenay

In its systematic quasi-judicial way, the commission was already addressing the situations that Ministers Pimm and Bennett were grumbling about in the media. At the time, I was prepared to give the duo the benefit of the doubt that they simply didn’t know what was happening in the Pimm ministry and the Bennett riding.

In Kootenay East, a recent article in the Columbia Valley Pioneer shows how confused the Invermere council still is as an effect of the Bennett-Pimm havoc. Judging from “Council concerned about ALR changes,” the council has sent a letter to Bennett and Pimm, helping keep the cycle of havoc in motion.

Meanwhile, in Peace River North, there’s a maverick who built a rodeo grounds, seemingly with MLA/Minister Pimm’s at-least-tacit approval, after the commission turned it down as a non-ALR use on good agricultural land. (I’ve touched on it in this blog as Threat 2 in “Gratefulness can heal threats to the ALR legacy.”) Now the commission has come down firmly with enforcement, and the maverick has responded in a seemingly meek letter. That’s better, but one can tell from the commission’s letter, including a stop work order, that the havoc has cost a lot in commission resources, which were stretched thin as it was.

We need the havoc-wreaking ministers to put an end to what they’ve caused. We need them to should stop squandering resources, to right the record with the citizens of this province, and to give their full support—including full funding—to the Agricultural Land Commission.

Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission of British ColumbiaIt is ironic that the ill-informed and/or politically self-serving actions by the Bennett-Pimm duo have occurred in the guise of a core-services review. The review would supposedly enable more efficient delivery of government services. However, the Auditor General of British Columbia released a far more credible review, Audit of the Agricultural Land Commission, in September 2010. If the duo takes time to find out what’s happening, I think they’ll see that ALC chair Richard Bullock (right) has implemented the audit’s “Findings and Recommendations” in a systematic and transparent way.

With close collaboration and support from the then Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Steve Thomson, Mr. Bullock  commenced a province-wide review to fill out the practical knowledge needed to effectively implement the audit recommendations. Near the end of November 2010, Mr. Bullock put forward the review results in a planning document that is well described by its sub-title, Moving Forward: A Strategic Vision of the Agricultural Land Commission for Future Generations.

Unfortunately, with different Ministers of Agriculture, the government dragged its heals in restoring ALC funding, which had been cut back for years. Even now, in inflation-adjusted dollars, the funding has not been restored to what it was many years ago, let alone to what it should be for implementing the audit recommendations. However, the commission managed to proceed with effective action anyway. Mr. Bullock went on to provide a thorough update in August 2012 and a further update in October 2013. I anticipate there will continue to be annual updates. Mr. Bullock’s term as chair, which began in mid-2010, runs until the end of November 2015.

People’s minds and motivations are hard to read at the best of times, which these are not, so we can’t really know what the Bennett-Pimm duo have been thinking in their ALC adventure this past half year. For instance, is Minister Bennett more informed than he shows? In that case, is he trying to influence the commission to open the vault of agricultural land and let it be plundered in the current series of East Kootenay ALR-boundary reviews? We hope not, but the presumption of ignorance becomes harder to believe in as time goes on with no change of course—or at least none in public view. If the Bennet-Pimm duo won’t change course, maybe the captain needs to take the wheel.

With best wishes, here’s my gift of advice to Premier Christy Clark:

If your provincial government wants to get the core services review back on the rails, heading toward the original goal of efficient service, there’s one way with great promise of success. Simply hold up the 2010–14 leadership of the Agricultural Land Commission as an example of best practices.


Ordinary British Columbians are just as deserving of the informed advice I can offer, which is this:

For ways to act, the Garden City Conservation Society endorsed Food for the Future, the Family Day rally organized by the Farmland Protection Coalition in Victoria on February 10, with related rallies in Summerland, Nelson and other locations around B.C. on and before that date.


For a Richmond context for current threats to the ALR, read “Gratefulness can heal threats to the ALR legacy” on this blog.


A very credible Friend of Garden City in East Kootenay phoned to respond to this article. He pointed to signs that the Bennett-Pimm approach has already influenced the ALC to relax its standards with recent ALR exclusion applications in that region. He also offered to send me a letter from Premier Christy Clark to Agriculture  After receiving it, I agree that my article understates the threat. I now think we are facing the greater threat that was implicit in Mark Hume’s writing in The Globe and Mail last November.

Update: For the latest re Richard Bullockgo here.

Happy birthday, FarmWatch BC!

January 16, 2014

Today, January 16, 2014, farmer Ray Galawan updated the sign protesting inappropriate fill being dumped into a road being built on a Finn Road farm. Notice the number: it is Day 365. A year!Ray Galawan at Finn Road

Sometimes a picture plus a dozen words really is worth a thousand and twelve words.

The fill is still where it was, but the dumping has stopped too, and Richmond soon passed a bylaw to help prevent dumping on farmland in future.

FarmWatch Day 365

The eloquent picture to celebrate the effective protest is from the FarmWatch BC site, courtesy of Erika Koenig-Workman. That sign has been there all along, and each day the day number gets updated.

Garden City Conservation was happy to be involved from before the beginning, starting on January 5, 2013.  We later spread the news with two articles:

After that, the FarmWatch BC blog was prolific for months, so we’ve been able to sit back and admire. We just offer the occasional encouraging word.

Core Review minister fumbles ALR

August 5, 2013

There’s a threat to the ALR expressed in a Cranbrook Daily Townsman article, “Agriculture minister sees local farmers’ struggles” (Aug. 1, 2013).

Note: Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer drew on it in his column titled “Mercurial Bill Bennett trusted by Christy Clark after being spurned by ex-premier Gordon Campbell” (Aug. 3).  An earlier Sun article also mentioned the topic. I’ll respond to the Townsman article, since it was the original story and also isn’t blocked by a paywall.

For a start, here’s the letter I’ve sent to the Cranbrook editor:

Since BC cabinet minister Bill Bennett is “very frustrated with how the Agricultural Land Commission operates,” perhaps he can help add funds for the long-overdue ALR boundary review.

Despite cupboard-is-bare funding, commission chair Richard Bullock has managed to start the process, which is the smart way to catch up.

At best, the minister seems unaware that the focus of the boundary review right now is on the Elk Valley in his own riding. The stated purpose is “to refine the ALR boundaries so that they encompass land that is both capable and suitable for agricultural use.”

Unlike the needed support, political potshots at the commission hinder the useful process in progress. They also spur ALR-land speculators, putting the cost of farmland out of reach for new farmers around the province.

Bill Bennett, Minister Responsible for Core Review, British ColumbiaLet’s give Minister Bennett the benefit of the doubt that he is simply unaware that the ALR boundary review in his riding is already systematically addressing the kinds of issues he’s complaining about.

However, he was/is a lawyer, so he should know that the commission is an administrative tribunal. He is denouncing it, supposedly in his role as Minister Responsible for Core Review, which he supposes to have power over the tribunal’s funding. Whether or not he has an inflated idea of his own importance, most ministers would see that as inappropriate.

Furthermore, when he cited a particular decision that he viewed as “ just plain wrong,” he missed the purpose of the well-written application: “to create a residential parcel for the owners, a retiring farm couple” so that their daughter’s family could succeed them in owning and farming the farm. The ALC decision essentially said that the applicants could already accomplish their stated goal under the ALC Act (without an application to the ALC).

It happens, though, that the part of the act’s ALR Land Use provision the commission applied isn’t ideally expressed for the needs. Fortunately, the commission evidently followed up, working with the farming family to get the details right. (As an administrative tribunal, the ALC has more leeway than a court to collaborate like that to flexibly meet the intents of the law.)

20786cranbrookdailyBillBennettandAgMinister_webI should also add that the Core Review minister took the Agriculture Minister, Pat Pimm, to that farm to influence him and also to a ranch. There’s a photo with the ranch couple (centre, with Bennett at left and Pimm at right) that prompts the reader to feel supportive of them. However, their challenge is that the Kootenay River is slowly eroding their land, and the Core Review minister offered no solution at all. While achieving a great “photo op,” he at least doesn’t seem to have done any harm unless readers get the impression the ALC was somehow responsible for the flooding too.

British Columbia needs a Minister Responsible for Core Review who will learn from the excellent model the ALC is developing. If the Core Review builds on best practices like the ALC’s, the province will soon be in great shape.


Update, Oct. 3, 2013: It has come to my attention that people have been trying to send email messages to the BC Cabinet Committee Working Group on Core Review. Absurdly, email messages on the topic that are sent to the obvious address are not being accepted. I phoned the “administrative coordinator” gatekeeper, and she was  firm that input must use this online form  (deadline Oct. 16, 2013).

Update: For the latest re Richard Bullockgo here.

Wolfe, Steves on Richmond Walmart plan

December 22, 2012

Michael Wolfe’s comments to the Richmond News in “Richmond Walmart shopping centre not a done deal” are noteworthy, especially re the junk trees, a most fitting new expression:

“I live in the immediate area and, ever since (Walmart bought the land) we’ve lost the community feeling,” said Wolfe, explaining the area is now all about land speculation, motivating people to sell up and ship out.

“It’s all about how much money everyone could make and now we have vacant lots, an unsafe neighbourhood where nobody talks to each other anymore; there’s no community.

“It was the beginning of the end when they bought the land here. The community and the environment have been eroded over those years.”

Wolfe said the company has, despite ring-fencing trees on the land to apparently protect them, no intention of protecting the surrounding environment.

“They will cut down small forests here and replace it with junk trees that will not buffer sound, can’t grow and will not prevent flooding,” lambasted Wolfe.

“This development will be a huge heritage loss to the city. We’re basically giving Walmart a clean slate here.”

Coun. Harold Steves’ comments are also noteworthy:

Steves said he wants the whole project punted back to staff, with “real land, real trees and real park, rather than a fake park and fake birds,” referring to SmartCentres’ landscaping plans and offer of a small community park on the site.

Walmart mess has the makings of a win-win

December 21, 2012

The Richmond Review published this article today.

Re: “Walmart mall to become ‘urban village centre’” (Dec. 19).

Reminder: The location is east of Garden City Road and north of the Garden City Lands and Alderbridge Way.

In the article, Michael Wolfe gave the damning detail: every tree on the Walmart mall site will be killed in the current plan. Nothing will be spared.

The good news is that Richmond council hasn’t voted yet. They’ll discuss the plan further and vote when a big but less future-shaking glitch is gone.

To fix the Walmart mall plan now, before the moonscape stage, we need a council majority of five members with commitment to conservation. Or with values like heeding citizens before developers. Or gratefulness for our viewscape legacies.

Yes, new saplings might be planted later, but the plan itself implies they’re window dressing. They wouldn’t save even bits of the ecosystem, let alone the viewscapes from the Garden City Lands area.

When looking north from where visitors have always contemplated the natural viewscape of wetlands, woods and mountains, who will ooh and aah at the lovely Walmart, the new gem of the setting?

(Okay, maybe a few from city hall.)

Sadly, the plan just needed to respect the city’s own map of “ESAs”, environmentally sensitive areas. There was an ESA on the Alderbridge Way edge of the site, and that remnant of mixed urban forest, teeming with diverse wildlife, could have been saved. It still should be.

The ecosystem to conserve is rare for Richmond, and by nature it’s a wildlife corridor. It’s from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road and would be at least 20 metres wide. With some needed upkeep, it would also save the natural viewscapes, a truly unique legacy.

In a largely-ESA space just east of the Walmart mall site, there was a two-acre natural area, but the mall plan has devoured it. Thankfully, Coun. Harold Steves is objecting, and he’s also brought in the wildlife corridor at council meetings.

Tellingly, by the way, the Walmart mall company sprang into action when Polygon, the giant developer, wanted changes to add value to its future condos nearby. The mall company is now planning a living green screen to give condo buyers better views, and it’s added a parkade-rooftop green space that will further enhance their wellness and Polygon sales.

When council asks, the Walmart mall company should act as responsibly for the people of Richmond. After all, the company actually sought lower density. (City hall pushed for higher density. Mind-boggling.) If the company conserves the natural area and wildlife corridor, an effect will be lower density. They’ll need to rework their plans, but they’ll be seen as responsible.

The mess has the makings of a win-win. The council members who would enable that need our support, and we need their votes.

A city finds its soul

May 28, 2012

Update for anyone who missed the landmark Richmond council meeting of May 28, 2012, or would like to experience it again: The City Clerk’s office has confirmed with Shaw Cable that the event will be rebroadcast on Shaw’s Richmond Cable 4 at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 2. (Thank you, Gail Johnson, Richmond City Clerk’s Office.)

At the Richmond council meeting today, the community resoundingly rejected genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Richmond, and council unanimously voted that way. My estimate when I did a rough count was 170 citizens present (besides council, city staff, and media). However, people were coming and going. The local anti-GMO people had printed 200 stickers and ran out, and I doubt that I was the only supportive person who chose not to take a sticker.

Many of the participants addressed council, typically with eloquence. The spokeswoman for CropLife spoke bravely in favour of GMOs, and two men were on that side too. The rest—of all sorts of ages and insights—were firmly opposed to GMOs. It was heartening to see the passion for conservation and the high level of informed views.

It was also great that the citizens were respectful of all views. With the help of timely reminders from Mayor Brodie, annoyingly audible negative reactions were minimal, though still not excusable. As is usual nowadays, the mayor also wanted people to stifle their natural inclination to applaud, but fortunately he want along with Coun. Harold Steves’ suggestion that they could wave instead, since that would not slow down the proceedings. The waving was mildly amusing and quite unifying in a subtle way, and it was refreshingly childlike without being childish.

The resolution that council passed has no teeth, but—far better—it has a soul, a spirit that characterizes the community. It is a soul that places high value on the conservation of what we have. For Coun. Steves, the gift of a soul that council and community unwrapped together was perfectly timed: it took place on the eve of his 75th birthday.


Below, I’ve added the agenda version of the resolution and then the speaking notes for my short presentation. (A detail: To be clearer, Council agreed to a refined version of the motion.)


Mayor Brodie and Councillors,

I’m representing the Garden City Lands Coalition Society. We keep advocating for diligent use of best available knowledge.

Our comment is about part 4, “That the City of Richmond agrees to revisit this resolution as pertinent new information becomes available. . . .” We agree but urge caution.

It’s predictable that Monsanto surrogates will take that as an invitation to claim your decision is not scientific. Their response to pesticide bans illustrates what to expect. For instance, my googling quickly found CropLife arguing against bans because Health Canada approval of a pesticide shows it’s safe. Well, no—not so!

We trust lawyer Andrew Gage, who has provided legal advice to our society, and he has analyzed CropLife’s claim for West Coast Environmental Law.

Andrew Gage points out that a Health Canada-approved label on a pesticide may show how the product is scientifically not safe. As an example, he discusses Wilson® Lawn Weedout® Concentrate. He begins, “In the Environmental Hazards part of the label on that weedicide, Health Canada warns that it is ‘Toxic to birds, small wild mammals, aquatic organisms and non-target broadleaf terrestrial plants.’”

I’ll abridge the rest of the lawyer’s comments to save time.

In addition to this warning, Health Canada’s label gives detailed safety instructions . . . including what to wear . . . and what to do if the pesticide penetrates that clothing. . . .

It warns against entering treated areas until the spray has “thoroughly dried” raising questions about . . . children and pets. . . . It warns how to get medical treatment if someone swallows the pesticide (call poison control immediately), gets it in their eyes, or gets it on their skin or clothing (flush eyes or wash skin for 15-20 minutes and then call poison control). 

The label even warns how to “minimize possible contamination of groundwater”, which requires the . . . user to be aware of whether their soils are permeable . . . and the depth to their water table. . . .

. . . Health Canada assumes that all of these label requirements are followed.  So if a neighbour doesn’t think he needs to read the label, or misreads it, or perhaps doesn’t know how to read the label . . . Health Canada would acknowledge that health or environmental risks are a real possibility. . . .

[And] Why would you want something that is “toxic to birds [and small animals]” sprayed in your neighborhood to control dandelions?

So Health Canada science shows the opposite of what CropLife says.

On the CropLife website, I found video clips of a skillful spokesperson. For instance, she refers to some Nanos research like this: “Eight out of ten felt that agricultural biotechnology had benefits.” Well, anyone who is in favor of making beer and penicillin must feel that biotechology has benefits. (They both use biotechnology.) Similarly, I bet that a Nanos survey would find that eight out of ten Canadians feel that sunshine has benefits, but we still want our governments to help limit harmful effects of sunshine such as melanoma, which is skin cancer.

We think you will be ready when you get house calls from the spin doctors. We support your vigilance.

Quarantine on freedom of conservation

May 23, 2012

I am passing along this urgent message from biologist Alexandra Morton, who has selflessly given of herself for years to conserve one of British Columbia’s greatest natural legacies, our wild salmon. In essence, the Garden City Lands issue is similar. The shared goal is to conserve a priceless natural legacy by spreading knowledge in the face of powerful opposing interests.

There are political aspects to saving the wild salmon, and Alexandra Morton publicly considered running federally with the New Democrats, but this post is in no way politically partisan. In principal, pretty much every political party is in favour of conserving natural legacies. It’s just that powerful forces pull at the principle on its path from ideals to actions.


In two weeks the Province of BC wants to make it illegal to talk about reportable diseases in animals destined for human consumption, as reported here.  They also seek to amend the Offence Act so that the punishment can be maximum for talking about reportable diseases in animals/fish people are going to eat.  I am in shock.

Last night Anissa and I went to observe the offloading of the Ocean King mort packer for Mainstream. They are moving the viral infected fish through the most productive wild salmon waters of the west coast of Vancouver Island – Alberni Inlet, avoiding every fish farm. There was no containment around the vessel as they pumped, the trucks were dripping bloodwater as they drove to the nearby Land, Earth and Sea “organic” composting facility between China Creek and Port Alberni. There is concern this will leach directly into the Inlet. People do not understand why this facility was used and not the much more secure mass mortality compost facility in Parksville. These fish should be removed before the next big rainfall.

We contacted Local First Nations who were not notified. DFO was called but they were not visible on scene, the mayor showed up but did not speak with me.  The boat left and will presumably be back late today.

We have posted videos at Salmon Are Sacred facebook page and a posting on my blog.

So folks this may be the last chance the people of Canada have the opportunity to be vocal about highly infectious diseases in Norwegian feedlots, leaching into BC. Mainstream is telling the world I breached quarantine at the dock, but there was none when we arrived and once there was I never stepped inside.

[My note: The accusations against Alexandra Morton and a videographer are described in a CTV article and video, “Anti-fish farm activist accused of violating quarantine.”]

If you want wild salmon – this is your last chance to protect them from viruses in salmon farms. I have no reason to trust that is IHN in the Dixon fsih farm owned by Cermaq which largely owned by the Norwegian government. If it is IHN we don’t know what strain and IHN epidemics in Atlantic salmon is not natural to BC waters.  The doors on free-speech are slamming shut if you feel like using democracy to try and stop this now would be a good time.

Alexandra Morton


Note: The word-processing/language errors are Alexandra Morton’s. There are more in the message than is usual in her writing. “I’m in shock” is an overused phrase, but in this case it’s an apt one.

BC Place farm refutes the naysayers

May 12, 2012

Richmond background: When powerful parties tried to wrest the Garden City Lands from the ALR for dense construction, they claimed it was useless for agriculture. In contrast, many citizens claimed that it was well suited to urban agriculture. They pointed out that the Richmond City Centre location that made it bad for industrial agriculture, which no one wanted, was ideal for the kind of agriculture that was widely wanted. Since the farmland was already sitting ready in the City Centre, all that was needed was urban agriculture expertise in leadership roles. And the community and local university had that expertise and council had received their detailed presentations showing how they would put it into action.

Vancouver proof: A recent Vancouver Sun article about a new urban farm in Vancouver near BC Place stadium demonstrates the power of the two factors of location and expertise. Unlike the Garden City Lands, the Vancouver location just has an asphalt parking lot instead of a third key factor, farmland, and it will still succeed.

I encourage you to read “Urban farm near False Creek to grow organic produce” it you haven’t already done so. Of course, I’m not suggesting that anyone should line the Garden City Lands with pallets with wooden frames on them and organic matter to fill the frames. However, there are lessons from that False Creek strategy. One lesson is to adapt to the existing situation, and the situation that exists on the Garden City Lands involves farmland that can be enhanced with permaculture methods. Another lesson is to seize the moment and act.

The import of the story: If Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community can do all that with two acres of asphalt farm, imagine what the Richmond community could have done by now with 140 acres of real farmland.

Environmentally Sensitive Area, Alexandra and GCL

March 13, 2012

Looking north from the main (west) entrance to the Garden City Lands, we see a seasonal pond, a grassy raised area (about 100 metres by 400), one or two vehicles that are moving along Alderbridge Way, the treed environmentally sensitive area (ESA, already compromised on the west side by Walmart site preparation), and the Coast Mountains. The treed ESA and the scene of woods and mountains are mentioned in the third and fifth points in this article.

As an Alexandra park article follow-up, here are the five points I made to Richmond council:

First, I agree that the natural-park role could possibly be served instead by the Garden City Lands, the 140 acres of open-land park across Alderbridge Way in the City Centre Area. But that only works if people can easily walk across to the Garden City Lands and get around the Lands on all-weather trails for open-land park enjoyment. This means, for example, that the hydrology studies need to be completed soon. And that’s because all-weather trails would have a dyking effect, which will be harmful instead of helpful unless they’re part of excellent hydrology, or water management.

Second, I suggest that the planners look at retaining the ESA natural area shown in the city’s Environmentally Sensitive Area map all along the northern side of Alderbridge from No. 4 Road to Garden City Road. That includes the Alexandra natural park, along with the overlapping Walmart area, where Walmart should be doing restoration, preferably with native species like shore pines.  (By the way, there’s a variety of trees in the ESA that borders Alderbridge.) I infer from the city’s ESA guidelines that the buffer should be 15 metres deep, and it’s the responsibility of the property owners.

Third, I urge that planners investigate whether any Alexandra natural park land should be retained for urban amenities like playing fields for the City Centre and West Cambie. If the Alexandra park is not kept for such amenities, it will be hard to find land for them, and the Agricultural Land Commission has been clear that it should not be in the ALR. In 2006, when it refused to exclude the Garden City Lands from the ALR, the commission included its staff report. Just before the final recommendation (rejection), it said this:

Areas to the north and south of the proposed exclusion are under development for residential and commercial use, and these areas could provide for the public amenities sought. (p. 5)

Fourth, I suggest that the assessed value of about $25 million for all* of the Alexandra park lots be used for active conservation of the 140-acre open-land park across the street if the Garden City Lands replace the Alexandra park as natural area.

*A footnote here: “All of the lots” includes three Walmart lots that are largely in the park area plan but missing from the new proposal.

Moving on:
, I hope the planning will take a City Centre view too. From the Garden City Lands and further east, south, and west, the treed ESA buffer along the Alderbridge side of the natural park and Walmart land is part of the view. With the green lands and the woods and the mountains, the scene is usually tranquil and often spectacular. Please don’t compromise it. It’s part of our legacy from the past and for the future.

Is the planned Alexandra Park worth keeping?

March 10, 2012

Update: The newer post titled “Environmentally Sensitive Areas, Alexandra and the Lands” serves as an update to the following article.

At the Richmond council meeting of Monday, March 12, 2012 (7 p.m. at Richmond city hall), council is likely to start eliminating a “natural park” from the West Cambie Area plan.

(Note: It’s item 19. Richmond council provides good opportunities for citizen input, including  a time for delegations at the beginning of meetings. Citizens can normally speak for up to five minutes on agenda items.)

I’m very conscious of that park because it is interrelated with the Garden City Lands. First of all, the recognition of the Lands as parkland makes a natural park across the street seem superfluous.

I may address council to suggest that it broaden what staff are asked to consider when revisiting that part of the plan.

First, I agree that the natural-park aspect is served by the adjacent ALR parkland on the other side of Alderbridge in the City Centre Area. I suggest that the planning process be extended to look at retaining Alexandra neighborhood trees along Alderbridge as habitat, especially for birds, which don’t have any trees to use across the street. If the woods are at least ten metres deep, they will also preserve the legacy of spectacular views of trees and mountains when people look north from the Garden City Lands parkland. And they would buffer the Alexandra neighborhood from the arterial traffic to and from Highway 91.

Second, I suggest that the planning process be further extended to consider whether the rest of the park area should be retained for amenities such as a soccer centre that would also serve neighbourhood and league needs.

I will refer to the Alexandra Neighbourhood Land Use Map on page GP-27. The park appears to start on the west side at 9440, 9480 and 9500 Alexandra, lots that are owned by Walmart, but those lots are unaccounted for in the proposed change. (The park area seems to have shrunk.) Judging with the City of Richmond’s excellent online Geographic Information System, or GIS, the original park area in the neighbourhood plan is close to 5.5 hectares, or almost 13 acres. Even with a related building, plenty of parking, and a retained environmentally sensitive area of woods along Alderbridge Way, there could be 10 acres for the soccer centre. I just hope there wouldn’t be a stadium or any building higher than two stories or the equivalent (20 feet?) that would mess things up for the Alexandra Neighbourhood and for the City Centre views from the Garden City Lands.

I’m just using the soccer centre as an example. If the Alexandra Park area isn’t used for major park amenities like that, it will be hard to find anywhere else for them, especially in or beside the City Centre, which seems to me to typically get less amenities than other areas.

Whether or not those amenities are still needed, they used to be, according to two applications to the Agricultural Land Commission. In 2006, when the commission responded to Canada Lands Company CLC’s application to exclude the Garden City Lands from the ALR, the commission provided its staff report. In the concluding comments, it stated:

Adjacent areas designated for redevelopment could provide opportunities to accommodate such urban amenities. Areas to the north and south of the proposed exclusion are under development for residential and commercial use and these areas could provide for the public amenities sought. For the above reasons, staff believes the land is appropriately designated as agricultural land pursuant to the Agricultural Land Commission Act. (p. 5)

Nothing is more adjacent to the north of the Garden City Lands than the planned Alexandra Park, so the Agricultural Land Commission advice certainly applies to it.

Biofilm, jet-fuel spills and the Garden City Lands

February 27, 2012

Vancouver Sun article about biofilm (illustrated above) begins like this:

The “magic” in the mud was first uncovered just south of Vancouver, where half the world’s western sandpipers touch down to refuel as they migrate south. Now the gooey, paper thin biofilm has also been found to be a key bird food on the other side of the Pacific. . . .

One aspect of this is that it is hard to know how jet-fuel spills will affect biofilm if the proposed dock for transferring fuel from ships goes ahead at the proposed site near Riverport. It is not enough to say that a lot of biofilm will still be left over, because the biofilm that has been poisoned may be particularly suited to particular shorebirds.

In any case, the biofilm news is a reminder of the importance of conserving the surface of the land too, and that applies to the Garden City Lands.Thanks to people who know much more than I do on this topic, I’ve come to realize the importance of taking great care before disturbing the surface. A good example is the southwest corner, which is not suited to restoration as sphagnum bog or as food-growing land. However, Michael Wolfe’s conservation biology observations show it is one of the most environmentally sensitive areas. It is great for bird nesting in the spring and for native bees from spring to the end of summer.

There have been suggestions to just use that southwest corner (bottom left corner in the PARC concept map) as a parking lot. Or to bring in huge quantities of topsoil to cover it for farming. Or to somehow drain and fill it for soccer fields (even though there are unused soccer fields throughout Richmond that could be used far more easily). Fortunately, like the biologists who identified the value of biofilm on the wet mud near Richmond, another biologist identified the ecological value of that muddy southwest corner of the Garden City lands. Like the biofilm, the habitat for nesting birds and native bees has new importance.

Read other articles on this blog on this topic. Also visit the VAPOR website.

The magic of Turning Point

January 29, 2012

It’s great to see “Turning Point opening new doors for women in Richmond” in the online Richmond News. The new house for women recovering for substance abuse will be good for its clients. As well, I believe that they will be good for the community, even while recovering.

My bit of insight comes mainly from the Turning Point Recovery Society’s male clients who volunteered at the Terra Nova Sharing Farm a few summers ago. A team of them spent a day a week there. They constructed things and helped grow food for the Richmond Food Bank. My daughter, an 18-year-old at the time, was working there, and they were respectful, enthusiastic and very productive.

The urban cousin of the Terra Nova parks is the Garden City Lands, and one of my deepest hopes for the lands is that they will meet needs like that. This does not mean giving exclusive attention to finding and serving the neediest. It does mean constantly asking whether a prospective use for the lands will help serve the neediest (a) at all and (b) in a high-priority way.

As I saw at Terra Nova, serving segments of the community that are most in need can make us all better. They receive community resources, a part of the community pie, but the value of the greater community wellness that results means that the community gets a larger pie to share.

This may seem like wishful thinking, and indeed it is magical, but it works.

Stronger Agricultural Land Commission = tremendous news for the Lands

November 25, 2011

The Agricultural Land Commission has now been strengthened by changes to B.C. legislation and increased assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture. As of today, Nov. 25, 2011, the amendments to the ALC Act are law.

This is tremendous news for the protection of the Garden City Lands.

In particular, the legislation puts the commission in a strong position to refuse re-applications within five years after a previous application has been refused (Section 30.1). For the Garden City Lands, that period would extend to February 2014. Furthermore, today’s Ministry of Agriculture press release calls that a moratorium, which is a powerful term.

In general, the provincial action is supportive of the 2010 report by ALC chair Richard Bullock, which reflects the views of the Garden City Lands Coalition Society and many other groups and individuals who provided input. The many improvements are described more fully in an earlier press release from the ministry.

Here is the key section that had been added:

2011 Richmond Council Election – “New-blood” Friends for Councillor

November 12, 2011

Note: To read about the Richmond councillor candidates who would be “new blood” on council, scroll down past this post to the next one.

In 2011, Richmond has an unusual number of knowledgeable, vibrant, promising candidates challenging for positions on council. Almost all are Friends of Garden City—citizens who are committed to a green future in the Agricultural Land Reserve for the Garden City Lands. Everyone of these “new-blood candidates” is committed to stewarding the Garden City Lands in the ALR for agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness.

Michael Wolfe

If there could be just one council member standing up for the best Garden City Lands future for the Richmond community, I think a good person for that would be Michael Wolfe. A conservation biologist and teacher, he is the foremost expert on the ecology of the lands. His campaigning to save the lands goes back to the 2005 ALR-exclusion application; he brought slides of life on the lands to the Agricultural Land Commission hearing to show the commissioners what was really there. Michael is a founding member of the Garden City Lands Coalition Society and has remained very active. He visits the lands to catalogue and monitor the wildlife, leads eco-tours, helps at public events and society gatherings, makes lively and articulate presentations to council, and even does a bit of cleanup on the lands. He had a major role in developing the PARC concept for the lands (Parkland for Agriculture, Recreation and Conservation for community wellness), which reflects his balanced approach to food security, ecological restoration, and open-land park uses of the lands. It is the only concept put forward so far that could realistically be expected to enable restoration of a significant area of sphagnum bog ecosystem and to ensure near-certitude of a long-term ALR future for the lands. In the past six years, Michael has grown from an exuberantly dedicated student to a mature young professional with extensive experience at council as a critiquing audience member and delegation.

Chak Kwong Au

A longtime advocate for urban agriculture education on the Garden City Lands, Chak Au took action through his positions as a long-time school board trustee and a significant player in international environmental groups to successfully nominate Richmond for the International Eco-Safety Demonstrative City Award from the International Eco-Safety Cooperative Organization (IESCO). Richmond is one of only three cities in the world to receive that award, and it happened because Chak showed the awards committee how the Garden City Lands Coalition and other community groups at Terra Nova have taken citizenship initiative to help protect and enhance green space that would otherwise have been lost. A member of the Garden City Lands Coalition Society, Chak has firsthand knowledge of the ecology of the lands. He had a leading role in initiating the partnership between the City of Richmond and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, which has been a win-win in Richmond and could be a win-win on the Garden City Lands with Chak as an advocate on council. He has often been involved in the coalition society’s events and also helped spread the coalition message at the recent World Food Day event at the library. Chak has made a personal mission of being a bridge between cultures, especially building respect between the Chinese-language and English-language populations, and he could be expected to do that with environmental and food-security issues, including the Garden City Lands, on council.

Carol Day

Another longtime member of the Garden City Lands Coalition Society, Carol Day is the coalition’s energetic coordinator of special events, a former director of the society, and a volunteer who has spent innumerable hours and her own money to get results. Besides going to the lands to experience them firsthand, she has helped start the coalition website, designed the logo, produced the Save Garden City stickers that one sees on cars, and created all of the coalition’s impressive signage. Carol has often argued passionately and persuasively for the green ALR future of the lands at council meetings and in the newspapers. Action-oriented Carol is the kind of person who gets a job finished while others around her are still pondering whether to roll up their sleeves. She would likely get quickly to the bottom of the mysterious inaction on the Garden City Lands in the eighteen months that have passed since the city purchased the property, and she spoke about that at a recent all-candidates meeting.

De Whalen

De Whalen is a longtime advocate for the neediest members of the Richmond community and also for the Garden City Lands. The two go together because the coalition, the people who work together to save the lands, have always been driven to meet community need, not greed. To help save the lands, De has written letters to the newspapers, addressed council several times, and participated in public and coalition events. She has also given the green future of the Garden City Lands a significant place in her election campaign.

Alexa Loo

Alexa Loo has thought through her position on the Garden City Lands during the election and arrived at an unreserved commitment to steward the lands in the ALR for agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness. She is particularly interested in bringing together active play with ecological experience, and that fits well with the popular idea of having several playgrounds with appropriate themes in open-space land adjoining bog-restoration and agricultural areas. My sense from interacting with Alexa on the issue is that she is a person of integrity who will follow through on her commitment, and certainly her success as an Olympic athlete proves that she stays with things in a systematic way that gets results.

Linda McPhail

I was pleased to see in the individual results of the recent survey of candidates that Linda McPhail was quick to respond with commitment to save and steward the lands in the ALR (for agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness). Even her political opponents who know her say that Linda is hard-working and thorough, and perhaps she can bring those qualities to the very complex Garden City Lands issue. There is a huge need for that.

Jun Wuyan

Jun Wuyan is an intelligent young New Canadian who wears his sincere commitment to serve the community on his sleeve. He especially wants to bring young Asian-Canadians into civic involvement. Since he is also fully committed to the Garden City Lands, no doubt he would bring the two commitments together as a councillor.

Cliff Lifeng Wei

Cliff Lifeng Wei is another bright young Chinese-Canadian who is fully committed to stewarding the Garden City Lands in the ALR. One of his visions for the lands is for a sort of Butchart Gardens there. I’ve heard a number of other people suggest including a botanical garden on the lands, so he would certainly get some support for the idea. In any case, it is encouraging to see that he has put thought into the issue.

No Teddy for Richmond!

February 11, 2011

The City of Richmond has failed to win a Teddy Award from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF). The Ottawa-based CTF had nominated Richmond in the Municipal Waste category after seeing a Toronto newspaper article about the purchase of the Garden City Lands for $59 million. Edmonton ran away with the Teddy by holding a haiku contest, even though it cost far less.

CTF’s figures appear online in its awards press release. It states Richmond’s claim to blame as “$59 million for city purchase of land for five-times real value.” Clicking through to the “backgrounder” for details, one finds that the “real value” is the assessed value of $13 million.

ALR land in Richmond was actually selling above assessed value. However, to keep this simple, let’s pretend that the real value of real estate is what a tax assessor thinks it is, not what a buyer and seller agree on. A Grade 3 kid could do the math:
    5 x $13 mil = $65 mil
   $65 mil – $59 mil = $6 mil

It’s as though CTF has credited Richmond with wasting another $6 million. The ramifications are mind-boggling. For instance:

  • Think of our embarrassment if we’d won and someone had spotted the extra $6 million of credited waste we didn’t waste at all. Would we have had to give the Teddy back?
  • Personally, I’d use it to shelter 300 people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness ($20,000 each). Would the powers that be have found that just too wasteful to contemplate?

CTF actually copied the “five-times real value” error from the “five times land’s value” error that appears in the headline of its source article but not in the article itself.

Although CTF can be useful, it wastes its taxpayers’ money when it doesn’t check its facts. In this case, it could have started by first reading the source article. It was not sufficient to skim the article and assume the headline writer’s simplification to be accurate.

Was the price Richmond paid for the Garden City Lands too high? Or, as the Musqueam Indian Band has told the B.C. Supreme Court, was it far too low? CTF made a joke of it, but there’s a serious question with complex factors. It is worth addressing—with correct facts—when the legal smoke clears.

Update, Feb. 12, 2011: The Richmond Review has expressed complementary views in an editorial titledRichmond the wrong target for a Teddy in this case.”