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After the majority of council in the City of Richmond busily carved up the best agricultural land in Canada — in their jurisdiction, sadly — the Minister of Agriculture is finally ready to step in.

As reported by the National Observer, the days of exploiting loopholes in Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) legislation may well be over; the ALR is all about protecting the best arable lands in Canada, and so the Province of British Columbia stated publicly that this land should be, well, exclusively farmland.

With the McMansioning of Class 1 agricultural land at epidemic level in Richmond, the Observer spoke to Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham about this central idea, and the reality that this is happening in other areas in the province too. Her response is telling.

“This is such valuable land. There are other countries that are trying to source agricultural land for food production outside of their own countries, because this is such a precious resource.”

“If we make it very clear that the highest and best use of this land is actually farming, the speculation will stop and I think we will see a result of those land prices more reasonable because you won’t be able to build a monster home, you won’t be able to use it for something else and you won’t be able to just hold it until hopefully an application will go through for an exclusion.

“If somebody is looking to build a 20,000-square-foot home and that is no longer allowed on ALR then they’re going to have to look somewhere else to build.”

A majority of Richmond councillors voted to allow the gated, largely offshore owned estates on farming lands, a big win for foreign buyers who don’t have to pay the foreign buyer’s tax on agricultural lands, can pay agricultural property taxes if they produce a nominal crop or a horse, and get supernormal land lifts as “developed exclusive country estates”. Richmond is now allowing houses of over 10,700 square feet to be built on “agricultural” land, with a smaller postage stamp house of 3,200 square feet for the “help”.

The province is expecting the results of a public consultation report at the end of the month, and will be introducing new legislation this fall.

With Minister Popham noting that farmland prices are at speculative levels — and that, with the majority of farmers over 55, young farmers cannot purchase them — the Observer goes on to note, “a Senate report found that the country’s food supply could be at risk because farmland is being bought up by speculators, such as pension funds and foreign investors. This phenomenon is driving up prices, making farms unattainable for young farmers and threatening the viability of the family farm, across the country.” 

And other countries are looking at foreign agricultural land for their own food security. Says Minister Popham:

“I’ve seen reports that the Chinese government actually has a budget to obtain food-producing land outside of China. That’s very forward thinking, as far as looking at food security.”

Protecting agricultural land in the province for current and future food production is very forward thinking; then again, it was the intent of the Agricultural Land Reserve 45 years ago, and should most certainly be the status quo in the 21st century.

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