Speak up to save the ALR

Former agriculture minister Corky Evans calls ALR an accident of timing

Former B.C. agriculture minister Corky Evans says he hopes people speak up to save the Agricultual Land Reserve as the current provincial government debates its future.

Corky Evans says this generation would not be able to create an agricultural land reserve in the face of high pressure from land developers in British Columbia.

“If we lose it now,” he told a gathering of local food producers and buyers at the Saanich Fairgrounds Monday morning, “it’s not coming back.”

Evans was B.C.’s minister of agriculture under the NDP government from 1996 to 2000 and has his own farm in the B.C. interior. He said he wants the debate to be non-partisan but added he knows that when he speaks on the issue, he will be tied by some to the NDP. That’s why, he told the audience, people have to speak up if they want to save the ALR.

“The ALR was an accident of timing,” Evans said, noting conditions were ripe in the early 1970s for it to take shape.

“I came 600 kilometers to speak to you, for if you speak up, no one can bust you for your philosophy.”

Evans said for the first time in 40 years, the philosophy of the ALR is under threat, not just the soil.

“Today’s government has decided to respond (to a Fraser Institute report on the ALR) and review the philosophy that land should be zoned for farming.”

That report, he continued, blamed the ALR for Vancouver’s high housing prices and suggested farming would be better if it took place outside of the province.

“Something is happening,” Evans said. “This is the moment that if we hold it together, the Fraser Institute’s attitude that it’ll be cheaper to grow (food) in Guatemala is going to die.”

He encouraged as many people as possible in the crowd to be on the lawn of the B.C. legislature on Feb. 10 at noon for a rally to support the ALR. That rally is being held to ask the province to leave the ALR alone, in the wake of media reports that the B.C. Liberals are including it in its core review.

Evans called the ALR a one-of-a-kind land policy in North America. He said it caused a lot of grief among farmers, fearful of losing their wealth when it was first introduced, it helped save land for farming today, when buying local food has become such a huge issue. He noted, however, change could be made to better support farmers — not just the land they work on.

While the ALR protects farm land in B.C., Evans said it doesn’t protect those who till the soil.

“We have the best defense for zoning of soil in North America, but the least support for the growing of food,” he stated, saying B.C. has shown the lowest financial returns from agriculture across the provinces for the last 20 years.

As a political veteran, Evans noted that the government’s job is to “survive today, not manage down the road.”

“It’s short-term, immediate and self-interested. It’s a different job than the Agricultural Land Commission, which has the job of worrying about our children and grandchildren.”