Saturday, April 26, 2014

Vancouver Is Right to End Chainsaw Massacres of 1,800 Healthy Trees Each Year

Tree with roses in Kitsilano - Bill Tieleman photo
Cutting down Vancouver’s healthy trees for better view or "monster homes" is selfish and not neighbourly

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday April 22, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver."  
- Martin Luther

The City of Vancouver has done the right thing by banning landowners and developers from committing chainsaw massacres of healthy trees.
Putting a stop to chopping down trees just to improve the view or build "monster" homes is a victory for common sense.
But the loud defenders of "private property rights" are in full cry, chainsaws forced to idle when City Council unanimously passed amendments last week that now bring Vancouver into line with rules in most other municipalities in the region, including Surrey and Richmond.
Previously -- and amazingly considering Vancouver's propensity for green space and environmental activism -- homeowners could remove one healthy, mature tree with a trunk diameter over 20 centimeters [8 inches] per year for any reason.
In 2013, that amounted to 1,805 trees being chopped down, or nearly five a day.
Multiply that clear cutting frenzy by 18 years and Vancouver's tree canopy coverage dropped from 22 per cent in 1996 to just 18 per cent today.
Chopping down 23,500 mature trees that provide cleaner air and a more pleasant city was just wrong. Vancouver's trees absorb 20,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, the city says.
Many of those trees were felled to build ridiculously large "monster homes" that also in many cases meant destroying heritage houses too.
How many mini-mansions built with appalling design and barely a tree to be seen are tolerable in Vancouver?
CKNW host's axe to grind
But those who still want to wield an axe to their alder, bulldoze their birch or mow down their maple are adamantly opposed.
It put CKNW AM 980 radio host Bill Good in a bad mood on Friday April 18:
"Stop nagging me -- I've planted more trees than I wish to remove from my private property but damn it, I don't want to have to beg permission to remove a tree in my yard but this council passed a motion unanimously yesterday which made it so," Good fumed.
And homeowner Karin Litzcke, who spoke against the change at a council hearing, matched Good's rhetoric.
"Basically people will be held in indentured servitude to large trees with no possibility of relief," Litzcke said on CKNW.
So Vancouverites are doomed to become slaves to their cedars? Good grief.
Good blasted council but saved special disdain for Non-Partisan Association councilors who voted in favour of the Vision Vancouver motion.
"George Affleck -- what were you thinking? I expect you to provide some push back, to at least speak for those of us who don't want dictated to a council consumed with making this the greenest city in the world, whatever that means," Good groused, while admitting he likes trees.
"Why can't the NPA get someone to oppose these meddlers? Do they really deserve to be so unopposed? Could someone run under the banner of: "You decide what life you want to live?" Good unhappily concluded.
Turning a new leaf
But the reality is that homeowners can still remove diseased trees, those interfering with sewer, drainage pipes or utility wires and any too close to a house, causing damage to property or hazardous.
And the city says: "Special provisions will be made for tree removal in cases where the retention of an otherwise healthy tree would cause undue hardship."
Face the facts: we live in a city where what we do affects more than just our property -- it impacts our neighbours and our community.
There already exist many rules and regulations restricting what homeowners can and cannot do on their "private" property -- including not opening a pub, height restrictions, a requirement to shovel snow off your sidewalk, not play loud music late at night or allow barking dogs to disturb the peace and many more.
Unnecessarily chopping down trees is no different. This change -- and Vancouver's plan to put 150,000 new trees in the ground by 2020 -- is overdue.

As an ancient Chinese proverb rightly says: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now."


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bill Bennett: Bill Tieleman should get out of Vancouver - my constituents wanted Agricultural Land Reserve changes!

BC Cabinet Minister Bill Bennett
ALR move is no Liberal 'conspiracy' to pave over the province, cabinet minister responsible responds to Tieleman column.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday April 15, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"I think Mr. Tieleman should get out of downtown Vancouver before he claims there is no poor quality land in the ALR."
- Cabinet Minister Bill Bennett in an April 9 Facebook comment
Not every column critical of BC Liberal government policy gets a direct online response from the minister responsible -- or sees that comment later removed from the minister's personal Facebook page.
Nor does a prominent BC Liberal supporter usually openly attack that policy online.
Receiving a colourfully-worded call from the minister on a Sunday night in response to your email requests for an interview, however, is most unusual of all!
But that's what happened after I wrote about cabinet Minister Bill Bennett's controversial plans to radically change the Agricultural Land Reserve in last week's Tyee column.
The straight-shooting Bennett, who introduced legislative changes to make it easier to remove property from the Agricultural Land Reserve in the Interior, the North and the Kootenays as part of the government's "core review" of operations, didn't like the column.
Reader Jan Halvorson posted a link to that column on Bennett's Facebook page, asking his views about "increasing population while decreasing ALR."
Bennett told me in an interview Sunday April 13 that the post later disappeared because "it probably means that I got rid of somebody" -- meaning he unfriended them.
Regardless, Bennett was clear that he decided to change the ALR because he has been "listening to his constituents for 13 fucking years!"
Liberals' 'Achilles heel'
Bennett may be particularly sensitive because he also got blasted on Facebook by Bill Eggert, owner and winemaker of award-winning Fairview Cellars winery near Oliver, B.C.
Eggert not only knows the Agricultural Land Reserve, he's a BC Liberal supporter -- and not happy with the government's changes.
Eggert wrote: "Love you Bill, but damn it, I can't be onside on this one. Farmland is farmland Bill... I worry how this will fall out with the party.
"No one has done well that went after the ALR. I have no illusions. I know why this is happening. I get very nervous when cabinet ministers with a legal background are discussing the merits of farmland.
"This issue is the Achilles heel of this party. You don't have a good record. I won't drag up the past, but you know what I'm talking about," Eggert concluded ominously.
Bennett continued on Facebook: "The irony of this debate is that the changes to the legislation will not help nor hinder use of 'agricultural land.' It will only help where the land is in the ALR and is not 'agricultural land.' Those who do not believe need only drive thru the EK with an ALR map in hand. It would be a conspiracy-busting experience."
Eggert fired back: "Many have stood in front of the ALC [Agricultural Land Commission, which governs the ALR] to say this land or that was not agricultural land. Leave it up to the ALC to decide. This is not your job Bill. Leave it at arm's length."
'This is me listening to my constituents': Bennett
In my interview, Bennett strongly argued that the ALC process is unfair, despite the fact that there is a clear, simple process for removing land from the ALR and that the commissioners who decide are all appointed either by cabinet, in the case of regional chairs and vice-chairs, or by the minister of agriculture.
One could argue that if anyone is keeping "poor quality land" in the ALR, it is commissioners appointed by a BC Liberal government deciding on BC Liberal government-controlled rules.
But Bennett thinks otherwise, blaming the legislation originally introduced by Dave Barrett's NDP government in 1974 to protect the five per cent of B.C. land regarded as agriculturally important, and saying that local people in his East Kootenay region have been ignored.
"It doesn't really address the fundamental problem in some areas of the province, which you don't seem to be aware of... that there is a ton of land within the reserve that you can't grow anything on," he said.
"And people own that land, they're B.C. citizens, lots of them vote for the NDP. The irony of this is, these are very ordinary people... whose land is no good for agriculture, and what do you do with these people? What do you tell them, that their land is sterilized forever?
"This is not my idea. This is not redneck, former lawyer, developer Bill Bennett wanting to pave over the Agricultural Land Reserve. This is Bill Bennett the MLA, listening to his constituents for 13 fucking years.
"And this is what they want me to do, so I get really upset when people say that this something other than what it is. This is me listening to my constituents -- the majority of rancher farmers who live here want us to do that. And if you want to talk to them, I'll give you their names and phone numbers."
Bennett insisted the changes to the legislation were "not a conspiracy by the BC Liberals or by Bill Bennett to pave over all the agricultural land in the Kootenays or the Cariboo or the North."
"I grew up in a farming community, my family comes from farm people, I married a dairy farmer, we grow stuff in my backyard," he said. "I'm about as rural as they get."
Why not work with the NDP?
So I asked Bennett, why not work with the NDP to find a mutually agreeable solution instead of this battle? Or is that naïve?
"No, you're not naïve, and I know you know the answer. I mean, I've read your stuff, I know who you are and I've got time for you. You're a decent guy, you drink wine and you said something borderline nice about me [on Shaw TV's Voice of BC]... and I appreciate that.
"But you know as well as I do that if we had the conversation with the NDP two months ago, three months, four months ago, all hell breaks lose and this becomes a political issue and the substance of the debate just disappears.
"You can't have a substantial, rational, non-political debate about the Agricultural Land Commission in British Columbia -- you know damn well you can't!"
I didn't disagree with that assessment, but pointed out in return that Bennett's approach isn't fostering a substantive debate either.
Bennett doesn't agree with my observation that there is a simple, straightforward way for landowners to remove property classified as within the ALR.
But the government's own Agricultural Land Commission website spells it out clearly:
"If you wish to subdivide or use your land for non-farm purposes or exclude your land from the ALR, you must submit an application to the Commission and obtain its approval.
"The Commission strives to process your application within 90 days of receipt. However, the length of time to process your application depends on the type of application and its complexity.
"The more information you supply, the better the Commission can understand your request. How does your proposal benefit agriculture? Does your proposal impact negatively on the potential for farming in your area? How does your proposal relate to the responsibility of the Commission to preserve agricultural lands? These issues are paramount to the Commission's decision.
"The Commission consists of a minimum of seven members. The Chair and Vice-Chairs are appointed by Cabinet. Other members of the Commission are appointed by the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management [now Minster of Agriculture]. The Commissioners are knowledgeable in agriculture, land use planning and local government."
The process isn't good enough for Bill Bennett or the BC Liberals though, even if overall land protected has shrunk by 94,795 hectares since 1974.
Bennett clearly believes what he is saying, but is his position plausible when the government already holds all the cards?

If you are concerned about the government's recent changes to the ALR, join nearly 8,000 others who have signed an online petition here.

NOTE: Versions of my column in 24 Hours Vancouver and The Tyee may have been inadvertently unclear - Bill Bennett responded to my requests for an interview about the ALR and his comments on Facebook about my previous column - I appreciate his taking the time to call despite our disagreement on the ALR and respect him for doing so.


Monday, April 14, 2014

BC Liberals Protect Agricultural Farmland? Horse Manure!

Osoyoos, BC - where significant farmland is preserved
You can bet the farm they'll sell out the Agricultural Land Reserve... again.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday April 8, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"It functioned up until the election of this Liberal administration... politics has interfered and land is being removed and that is a serious, serious mistake." -- Former NDP premier Dave Barrett, Voice Of BC, June 29, 2005
Don't believe the BC Liberal government will "protect farmland" or "help farmers" -- its Bill 24 is all about continuing its attack the Agricultural Land Reserve, which began shortly after the party's 2001 election win.
Former NDP premier Dave Barrett wasn't fooled back in 2005, and no one should be fooled today by the nonsensical bafflegab spun by cabinet minister Bill Bennett, who introduced legislation to carve up farmland for use by industry and developers while undermining the Agricultural Land Commission's independence from political interference.
Bill 24 would split B.C. into two zones with very different rules on removing farmland protected by the ALR. The bill enables government to use "economic, cultural and social values" and "regional and community planning objectives" or "other prescribed conditions" decided by cabinet to plough ahead with farmland removal.
Bennett is unlikely to stop at one radical change to the ALR, which currently applies to Zone 2 of B.C. -- the Interior, the North and the Kootenays.
Just wait for the other shoe to drop in Zone 1, including the South Coast, Okanagan and Vancouver Island, where B.C.'s most productive land that creates 85 per cent of farm receipts is under enormous pressure from developers and industry.
Ministers of manure
Bennett is the minister responsible for a "core review" of government and is clearly driving his anti-ALR agenda, first made clear eight years ago.
There has always been a defined process for removing farmland from the ALR, which protects five per cent of B.C. Thousands of hectares have been exempted since it was introduced in 1974, mostly from areas with the most productive soil.
Before the ALR's creation, B.C. lost about 6,000 hectares of farmland each year. But it's not like the ALR stopped the loss of all farmland, particularly in southern B.C.
Between 1974 and 2013, Metro Vancouver lost 5,910 hectares of farmland and the Fraser Valley 5,083 hectares, according to ALC reports, while overall land protected has shrunk by 94,795 hectares since 1974.
But Bennett doesn't care, preferring to claim that the ALR is some bureaucratic nightmare that preserves useless land simply to penalize its impoverished owners. "There is some land within the Agricultural Land Reserve that actually is useless to agriculture," Bennett said.
"That land could be located in a region where there's six months of winter. In some cases the land is covered by forest. I've seen land within the reserve that's mountainous. It's steep. It's rocky. It's swampy. It has really poor-quality soil and no feasible access to water."
Oh the horror! Poverty-stricken farmers forced to plant crops on rocks and swampland because of evil rules written in Victoria to keep them in serfdom!
What horse manure from Bennett, who last year described the opposition as "turds" on Twitter!
If Bennett isn't bad enough, last year Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm was admonished by the Agricultural Land Commission for attempting to "politically influence" an attempt to removed protected farmland from the ALR to build a rodeo and recreational vehicle campsite.
And despite the commission rejecting the application, Arizona developer Terry McLeod built a race track, parking lot and seating for 3,000 people anyway, apparently completely confident the BC Liberal government would do nothing to stop him. Obviously, he was correct.
Bennett and Pimm's legislation could soon pass, so support the protection of B.C. farmland by letting your MLA know and signing a petition online here.