Before my husband and I were born, the B.C. government under former premier Dave Barrett was thinking about our health. Not just with hospitals, clinics, and operating and emergency rooms, but also with one of the most important things that define a person’s health: food.
The Agricultural Land Reserve is 40 years old. Created to protect B.C.’s limited agricultural land for food production, the ALR is a legacy from the 1970s Barrett government that included Nelson-Creston MLA Lorne Nicholson. Protecting this land was essential at the time. Cities were growing and expanding, gobbling up farmland and turning them into suburbs with little thought as to how we were going to feed everyone.
As with anything worthwhile, it didn’t come easily. Many at the time were opposed to the ALR and the Agricultural Land Commission that oversaw it. Comments in the legislature saw the Social Credit party denouncing it as a “vicious bill.” Undaunted, Barrett declared, “I want to predict that when the election comes three years from now, there won’t be a single opposition leader who will stand on a platform and say, ‘Elect me and I will rescind this legislation.’ ”
Barrett was right. From these early days in the 1970s, the level of support for the ALR has grown and grown. It has blossomed into an institution as important as public medicare and education. Indeed, no election platform has ever committed to get rid of the ALR.
All the same, here we are with the ALR under threat. Last fall, leaked documents revealed that the Ministry of Agriculture singled out the ALC, ordering it to stop work because it is under core review. We also learned that the minister proposed to abolish the ALC, bringing all regulatory decisions under the ministry instead of an independent body — except, of course, for industrial activity on farmland in the Kootenays, which would be decided by the Oil and Gas Commission.
Former agriculture ministers like Corky Evans were aghast at how today’s minister was so quick to throw the ALR under the bus. In response, the minister for the core review, Bill Bennett, said that such proposals were early drafts and have since been rejected. But here’s the thing, they plan to do something with the ALR and ALC, and by all indications it isn’t going to be good for our food supply.
We need good farmland in B.C. for healthy local food production. The ALR ensures that the land is there to grow the food. Instead of getting rid of it, government should be talking about how it can better support farmers working that land for the benefit of us all. Because, after all, we are what we eat.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.