Former minister fights to keep ALR at meeting last week
BC’s former Minister of Agriculture and Food Corky Evans spent over an hour on March 12 sharing the reasons British Columbians should fight to save Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) to a full house of concerned citizens at Selkirk College.
He was invited by Grand Forks & Boundary Regional Agricultural Society (ag society) and supported by the BC Food Systems Network (BCFSN) to rally against the proposals to change the 40-year-old ALR and ALC (Agricultural Land Commission).
In Evans opinion, “Bankers have always talked about what they call a golden triangle – It’s Whistler to Vancouver to Victoria – and all of us live outside of it. Now they are going to apply the golden triangle idea to agriculture. “
Evans noted two completely different changes since his involvement in politics in BC. One is that young people want to farm and the other is that consumers want to pay for it. “When the ALR was created, for most people, it was a philosophical idea to save land for the future. In 2014 we’ve actually come to the day they’ve saved it for. This generation wants to do it and the people want to buy it. For the first time we could make it pay. “
He continued, “There is a generation alive today, of young people, who want to grow food and aren’t stupid. I’m separating them from my generation. I wanted to grow food too, but ignorance was huge. There’s a bunch of young people, some of them have been to business school, and they want to farm instead of work for a corporation. When I was young… the only thing we thought about food was ‘is it on sale?’”
Evans compared our responsibility to save the ALR to that of a marriage ceremony, “Speak now or forever hold your peace,” said Evans. “The legislature is in session, the government is waiting to hear what you have to say and silence is a big voice. If we say nothing, we give permission. Permission in politics is called mandate. You get a mandate for being a jerk if the people don’t speak – that’s a fact. This is me saying ‘do something’ because they (the government) haven’t decided yet.”
When asked what the next steps for concerned citizens might be, Evans suggested, “Mail cards, talk to friends, send letters to your government officials, and invite the Premier to a town hall meeting so that she knows her future is tied to her ability to make you happy.”
He also cautioned that after stopping the changes to the ALR, citizens must also rally to assist the farmers. “Politically we back the land reserve and abandon the farmer. While we protected the land better than anybody else on the continent, we moved to last (place) in Canada for support for food production at three per cent and we stayed there for 20 years while other provinces average 20 to 25 per cent support.”
According to Evans, the Fraser Institute’s 2010 report, ‘The Agricultural Land Reserve doesn’t work – so let’s get rid of it’ by “an American chief lobbyist for right wing senators,” has been the catalyst for the government’s proposals to change the ALR and ALC in ways that will significantly threaten BC’s food supply and security.
In Evans words, “The most insulting comment (in the report) …is that people who want to buy local food have been conned by bad people – and that the world is better off getting asparagus (produce) from where ever it is grown cheapest in the world. It is a false economy to think that buying it from your neighbor is either good for your body or good for your community.”
“The woman who wrote the thing for the Fraser Institute is wrong,” continued Evans, “People who want to buy food that’s healthy for them are not dupes and nobody conned them.”
An audience member had concerns that the ALR’s jurisdiction is outdated, restricting the ability to subdivide large parcels of land that are unaffordable for the young farmer. Evans agreed, “–a reason to say ‘we want there to be agricultural land for the next generation and if that may mean that some of the rules have to evolve to make that possible for the next generation. Stop threatening the institution and start reviewing the regulatory regime that goes along with it.”
Evans also reminded the audience of a past Grand Forks success when a small group was able to stop the Glen Clark initiative to use local farmland to make a giant fence-posts plant using a poisonous preservative. He noted that they were able to accomplish that with a smaller group than the one that attended the ALR meeting last week.
Evans was a member of BC politics for 20 years, (past Minister of Agriculture, Food & Fish, past Minister of Transportation, past Minister Responsible for Rural Development) and a BC logger and farmer.