Tuesday December 18, 2007
Public keen to protect farmland
Public opposes removing farmland from ALR for Tsawwassen treaty but supports treaties
By BILL TIELEMAN
For me, every ruler is alien that defies public opinion.
British Columbians strongly oppose removing farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve to reach a treaty with the Tsawwassen First Nation, an exclusive 24 hours' poll shows. But the same poll indicates solid support in general for negotiating treaties with B.C. First Nations.
And a prominent environmentalist says the poll shows that the governing B.C. Liberal Party and the opposition New Democratic Party are both out of step with public opinion after their MLAs voted overwhelmingly for the treaty that will exclude farmland from the ALR to allow Deltaport container shipping expansion.
By almost two to one, British Columbians polled last month by Strategic Communications said they opposed removing Delta farmland from the ALR, with 57 per cent opposed versus 29 per cent in favour.
And 37 per cent were strongly opposed, versus 14 per cent strongly in favour. The remainder were undecided.
The question posed to 600 people across B.C. was: "Do you support or oppose the provincial government removing farmland from the agricultural land reserve to reach a Treaty with the Tsawwassen First Nation and allowing the band to do what it pleases with that land?"
But on the general question of negotiating treaties with First Nations, 71 per cent were in favour, with 44 per cent strongly so, and 19 per cent were opposed.
The results pleased politicians and environmentalists who fought the deal over removing farmland from the ALR and turning it over to the Tsawwassen First Nation.
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Michael Sather, who was temporarily suspended from the NDP caucus for opposing the treaty, was pleased the polling supports his position.
"It's gratifying that people value agricultural land that much," Sather said. "But I remain concerned about other treaties in the pipeline and other challenges to the ALR."
The B.C. Farmland Defence League's Donna Passmore was blunt.
"What these results show is that both the leaders of the B.C Liberal Party and the NDP are completely out of touch with the people of B.C. and their own voters," Passmore said. "People will not be held hostage to First Nations over issues of guilt to the point that it obstructs issues about our future, especially farmland."
But Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, B.C. Assembly of First Nations regional chief, disagrees.
"Once the land is back, it's up to them [the Tsawwassen First Nation] to decide what to do with it," Atleo said. "As First Nations, we did not institute these land-management processes."
"The notion that First Nations are going to be wanton land owners and destroy everything just doesn't make sense," Atleo said, while acknowledging public opinion. "I think First Nations need to hear what public concerns are. The issues around land use are welcome discussions between neighbours."
And Atleo is glad treaty-making in general is backed.
"I'm very pleased to hear the public supports reconciliation," he said. "It's absolutely critical that the public not only understand but pressures government to reconcile aboriginal and Crown titles."
Joe Foy, campaign director for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee - one of the only environmental groups to speak against farmland removal - said the poll is "great" news.
"The people get it, according to this poll," Foy said. "People at least have a sense of the strings that are being pulled here. There's a reason this scheme came forward to pave over farmland and people can see that."
Richmond Coun. Harold Steves, a longtime farmland advocate, was pleased but said he doubted the poll would change the NDP, which said it wants farmland protected but voted for the treaty.
"Whether that message will get through to the NDP, I'm doubtful," he said. "The NDP seem to be sitting in the last century."
Even Corky Evans, the MLA and former agriculture minister who responded to a 24 hours' request to the NDP for reaction, agreed the party is in a tough spot choosing between a treaty and farmland protection.
"Tsawwassen created a bit of a precedent. It isn't resolved yet but it would be exceedingly difficult for the party to say 'not this one'" to a future treaty, said Evans, who personally abstained from the legislature vote on the treaty.
John Willis, campaigns and research director for Strategic Communications, 24 hours Vancouver's official pollster, said the contrast in the two questions was striking.
"That's a pretty significant shift from supporting treaties in general to opposing the Tsawwassen Treaty," Willis said.
Strategic Communications polled 600 British Columbians Nov. 22 to 29, with a plus or minus four per cent margin of error, 19 times out of 20.
This column takes a Christmas break, returning Jan. 8, but watch my blog for more on this and other news!
POLL QUESTIONS & RESULTS
Question: Do you support or oppose the province removing farmland from the agricultural land reserve to reach a treaty with the Tsawwassen First Nation and allowing the band to do what it pleases with that land?
Strongly support - 13.6%
Somewhat support - 15.8%
Strongly oppose - 37.3%
Somewhat oppose - 19.8%
Neither - 2.4% 9.8% didn't know and 1.2% refused to answer
Question: Do you support or oppose negotiating final settlement treaties with B.C. First Nations?
Strongly support - 43.6%
Somewhat support - 27.8%
Strongly oppose - 13.2%
Somewhat oppose - 6.0%
Neither - 2.6%
6% didn't know and .8% refused to answer