Tuesday November 13, 2007
NDP ditch ALR
By BILL TIELEMAN
The Agricultural Land Reserve is the best legislation I ever passed. Without it in place, agricultural land is a developer's heaven and once the parking lots are paved and the streets are in - the land is gone, there is no going back.
There were many speeches in the B.C. Legislature the past few weeks about the importance of stopping farmland from disappearing and the need to protect our food security and fight climate change.
Several NDP MLAs spoke about how critical the Agricultural Land Reserve has been since 1973 and how it has saved countless farms from development.
But when the vote finally came on a treaty with the Tsawwassen First Nation that will take 500 acres of prime farmland out of the ALR and allow it to be used for Deltaport container shipping expansion, just one NDP MLA said no.
That lone NDP MLA is Michael Sather and for upholding a principle held crucial by his party for more than 30 years he was suspended from the NDP caucus until the legislative session ends.
It takes great courage and conviction to disagree in public with your party's leader and position, particularly to oppose a long-awaited treaty with a First Nation, but Sather has not backed down from defending the ALR and protecting farmland.
"It's pretty stressful overall. I can see why people don't do it very often, but I'm glad that I did," Sather told me.
While some colleagues were unhappy, the MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows says the public has been "totally supportive of the position I took."
And the dissident MLA is also surprised that the NDP caucus didn't at least vote against the section of the legislation that removed the 500 acres from the ALR.
"It thought that it would have been a good time for the caucus to show solidarity with the ALR and against the removal of farmland and I'm disappointed they didn't," he says.
Delta-North MLA Guy Gentner was the only NDP MLA to join Sather in voting against the treaty's ALR exemption section.
NDP MLAs Corky Evans and Harry Lali, who also spoke on the importance of protecting farmland and criticized Premier Gordon Campbell for using the treaty to get the farmland for Deltaport expansion, joined Gentner in abstaining on the final treaty vote by leaving the Legislature.
What comes next is clear. Deltaport expansion onto prime farmland begins soon.
The Tsawwassen First Nation becomes a paid partner in paving.
And an NDP caucus that reversed party policy to support removing farmland in one treaty will face a difficult challenge the next time agricultural land is put on the table in treaty negotiations, as it surely will be.