Among the legislation recently introduced by the provincial government is Bill 52. It proposes to make three key changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR):
Returning the ALR to One Zone; addressing mega-mansions and speculation in the ALR by limiting new house sizes to less than 5,400 square feet and requiring Agricultural Land Commision approval of any additional residences in the ALR to curb non-farm development; and cracking down on the dumping of construction debris, toxic waste and other fill in the ALR.
Living on a ranch, having in-laws who ranch and owning, along with my wife, an absolutely tiny amount of cattle, I probably can’t be considered a neutral observer on this, but I’m inclined to comment nonetheless.
At face value, it seems a little like this bill stems largely from a Lower Mainland problem and attempts to provide a solution for that problem that’s then applied to the rest of the province. With the vast majority of ALR land outside of the Lower Mainland and in areas where the NDP doesn’t have any MLAs, the optics aren’t exactly great either. Especially when 89 per cent is outside of Zone 1 (Vancouver Island, the South Coast and the Okanagan).
The press release conveniently came with supporting statements from the president of the BC Agriculture Council, the BC Cattlemen’s Association etc. I’ll concede that it’s hard to argue against mega mansions and dumping but having the ALR as one or two zones is mostly a pissing contest between the NDP and the Liberals.
To some extent, the bill really misses the point. In 2008, a baseline report titled South Okanagan Regional Growth Strategy noted that since 1974, 6,158 hectares were excluded from the ALR in the Vancouver Regional District, a 34-year span. These are not insignificant numbers but, at the same time, it somewhat pales in comparison to what’s being lost for entirely different reasons. In Cariboo Area G (Lac la Hache to 93 Mile excluding 100 Mile House), between 2011 and 2016, the number of farms dropped from 73 to 58 and the number of farms 3,520 acres and over dropped from 6 to 4. The total cattle and calves decreased from 7,130 to 3,799 during that time.
That’s just a five year period, not 34. In the Cariboo, this really isn’t due to megamansions or toxic dumping. Sure it’s not being taken away from the ALR but if it’s not being used, does it really matter?
By combining Zone One and Zone Two, bringing the more rigorous Zone One standards to Zone Two, it could just as well have negative consequences on both B.C. food production and especially rural economies by limiting ranchers’ and farmers’ revenue streams to make their business work.
If you care about preserving farmland, this bill is great. If you care about B.C. farmers and B.C. food production, it’s hard to see it being of any help in 89 per cent of B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve, where things like mega-mansions are hardly a concern and the number of farms are already decreasing. If anything, it’s going to hinder farmers and food production. Then again, maybe it’ll drive more small-time ranchers and farmers out of business and free up space for mega-corporations and billionaires to buy up cheap farmland.