Tuesday October 2, 2007
NDP all wrong on treaty: Ex-MLA
By BILL TIELEMAN
We've squandered farmland as recklessly as we did fish or buffalo a hundred years ago.
A former B.C. environment minister says Premier Gordon Campbell has gotten away with a "con job" by using the Tsawwassen First Nation treaty to remove 207 hectares of valuable Delta farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Joan Sawicki says Campbell "didn't have the courage" to hold what should have been the real debate - of port development versus the province's food security. The Tsawwassen First Nation will use the farmland to expand Deltaport container shipping operations.
But Sawicki, a former New Democratic Party MLA and B.C. Legislature speaker, also said in an exclusive interview with 24 hours that the NDP caucus has taken the wrong position in supporting the Tsawwassen Treaty despite the loss of farmland.
"I appreciate the agony the opposition caucus went through, but I regret that they've let the premier get away with a con job," Sawicki said. "He has slipped port development through using human rights issues, using the treaty."
And Sawicki said if she were an MLA today, she would vote against the Tsawwassen Treaty when it comes to Legislature for ratification this month because of the ALR exclusion. Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Michael Sather was expelled from the NDP caucus for stating he would vote no.
"There are many different ways of negotiating a fair and honourable treaty with the Tsawwassen people, but there is only one way to protect our food security," Sawicki said from her Bella Coola Valley home.
Sawicki warned that the Tsawwassen ALR exclusion sets a dangerous precedent for future treaty negotiations because more farmland will be lost if First Nations and land developers target agricultural areas.
"If you were a developer, why wouldn't you now go and find land next to a First Nation in treaty negotiations?" she said. "The snowball effect of this decision is going to be serious - overriding one of the strongest pieces of legislation to protect farmland."
And while NDP Leader Carole James says that "the ALR must be protected throughout the treaty process," Sawicki says NDP support for the Tsawwassen Treaty undercuts its ALR position.
"It's going to be a huge challenge for the NDP to oppose future treaties with ALR exemptions," Sawicki said.
Can farmland still be saved? Sawicki says only if "British Columbians make clear to all political leaders not to mess with the ALR."
For six years, Sawicki worked for the Agricultural Land Commission, created in 1973 by the NDP government.
When the NDP government excluded the Six Mile Ranch near Kamloops from the ALR in 1998 for residential development, Sawicki quit as parliamentary secretary to the minister of environment in protest.