Governance & Politics
August 17, 2018

Province Says They Are Going to Stop the Private Estating of Agricultural Lands

Finally — entering the final stretch of a hot, dry summer, the Province of BC’s Minister of Agriculture says she is going to do something about the flagrant misuse of council authority in the City of Richmond.

As The Richmond News reports:

Lana Popham the Minister of Agriculture is now saying it directly~she is closing the barn door  on Richmond’s agricultural land speculators this Fall. Ms. Popham states “Legally limiting house sizes on protected farmland is among 13 recommendations for “immediate legislative and regulatory change. We can expect to see changes coming forward in the fall with regards to that.”

Previously, this council green-lit the development of the best agricultural lands in Canada into exclusive private estates for the very, very rich — many off-shore owned. Of course, these particular land owners receive the unintended additional benefit of a ‘super’ land-lift, as their agriculturally zoned property becomes a McMansioned playground for the well-heeled from elsewhere.

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The upcoming civic election in Vancouver (and elsewhere in BC) has something new — controlled campaign spending, less of it, and smaller donations.

This extends to organizations that are not political parties, but advertise on their behalf. They’re called “local advertising sponsors” or “third party sponsors”. They are required to register with Elections BC, and to observe spending limits during the “campaign period”, the 28 days before voting day.

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Another conversation with a savvy insider on the civic election – one who deserves the moniker of ‘pundit’ (in the best sense) – and who had a most provocative insight: “Vision will win a majority on council.”

How?  With their data base.  Vision continued to renew their already-extensive and targeted contact list between elections.  Unlike the new parties or independents, Vision knows who their supporters are and how to reach them.

Because of the new financing rules, it’s even more of a challenge for others to create such a list or find an expensive substitute.  Pundit thinks Hector Bremner may have some data, but it’s likely out of date.  There’s also a rumour that the NPA may have been in danger of losing what they had because of an in-house conflict.  Regardless, says pundit, the old guard that’s left, after Bremner blew it apart, doesn’t know much about contemporary political organizing.

But has Vision, I asked,  such a damaged brand that, regardless of their data, they won’t pull in the needed vote?

Pundit thinks that even with a 15 to 20 percent drop in support, their core vote won’t be bewildered by a ballot with 70-plus councillor candidates and nine for mayor (at last count).  And if they fear that the progressive policies of Vision they do like, regardless of a failure on the housing file, might be threatened, they’ll be sufficiently motivated to support the party.  Vision will know their names.  Then it’s the job of the volunteers to get them out.

Sounds like old-fashioned political organizing to me.

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Not much is going on.  It’s August; no one seems to care about an election in October.  Not at least until after Labour Day.

I’m calling up people whose job it is to care – the campaign managers and supporters around the candidates, the savvy ones – and asking them for their take on what’s happening.

The first one I contacted affirms that, yup, it’s too quiet – and too confusing.  The fear: so many parties, too many candidates, so that a lot of people may decide early on that it’s too much work to keep track.  They aren’t going to pay attention even as the election approaches, and in the end they simply won’t vote.

It’s therefore possible, goes the concern, that a very few percent of voters – 33 percent or less – will end up choosing a mayor and council that, if other places are a precedent, will result in a dysfunctional council.  Example elsewhere: Nanaimo.

It also means that some mayoral candidate with a simple message, aiming to rile up a  base, can run on an outlandish, divisive platform and end up in power.  Example elsewhere: well, you know who.

Wai Young, for instance, might be that outsider in Vancouver with a simple message (damn bike lanes), especially with an attraction to Cantonese speakers.  But she likely wouldn’t have a supportive council.  Hence, dysfunction.

My contact just raised that theory.  Doesn’t yet have an answer as to how to respond.  The question is whether a credible candidate, aiming for a broad base, can get enough profile and support to prevail on a fractured ballot with a low turnout.

 

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A bold-looking mixed-use Oakridge Centre is rising in the city, on 28 acres, at the site of a Canada Line transit station. Henriquez Partners Architects have designed something that is billed as the largest development in Vancouver’s history. Completion date looks to be 2025, costs somewhere around $5B, with 2,548 new residential units, and two 40+ storey towers among 12 other buildings. And it’s right in the middle of a predominantly single-family residential area, with rising density nearby.

Part of the design rationale is, however, specifically to generate density at an important transit hub.  Mission accomplished, it seems to me.

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We’re reviving a Vancouver-oriented Price Tags Golden Oldie from December 2012 that rings with resonance today, as we enjoy lively and informed debate about when subway and LRT are appropriate.

Given that the VCC-Clark Drive to Arbutus section is funded and underway, the Arbutus to UBC section is getting scrutiny. Given UBC’s involvement and possible financial support, the impending Jericho development and the lengthy low-density section of the proposed line, not to mention Skytrain vs. LRT, it’s fertile ground for thinking.

So many of the topics discussed in 2012 are relevant today, perhaps in a different manner on the Arbutus to UBC section.

The Editors of Price Tags

Bob Ransford discussed the push by the Vancouver Council to get a rapid-transit line down Broadway in his Vancouver Sun column.  Lots of good points.

I sent it off to Human Transit blogger Jarrett Walker to see if he had any counterpoints.  Oh yeah.

So here are the two of them, with Jarrett’s remarks italicized along the way:

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Finally the Agricultural Land Reserve’s independent committee  has stepped in on the ongoing repurposing of the best agricultural land in Canada to privately owned gated estates, many in numbered companies and owned offshore for multi-millionaire elite.

Richmond City Council is in complicit in this destruction, allowing mansions of almost 11,000 square feet to be built on Class one agricultural land, and also allowing a 3,200 square foot additional house for the “help” on larger properties. Richmond has 61 applications they are now processing as the supposedly protected Class 1 agricultural land is busily carved up for short profit developer gain, exempt from foreign buyer’s tax, and getting property tax breaks by producing a rock bottom minimal “profit” on the land.

On Wednesday, the eight-member group submitted a report to the agricultural minister with 13 recommendations for legislative and regulatory change that would better protect B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The reserve was set up in 1973 to protect the province’s best farmland from development and now represents about five percent of B.C.’s total landmass. One key recommendation was that the province establish a maximum floor size for all primary residences built on ALR properties, noting the government’s current suggestion of almost 5,400 square feet as a good starting point.

It came up all the time, people felt that it was an abuse of the ALR and increased the levels of speculation on the land,” said committee chair Vicki Huntington, a former independent MLA from Delta South. “They felt that it was detrimental to the preservation of the capacity of the land to be saved for farming, so we felt that it was one of the primary recommendations that we had to make.We’ll see if the government feels that it’s a worthwhile one.”

A Globe and Mail investigation in 2016 looked at the loopholes that has turned farmland into a residential cash cow.  The  Provincial opposition Liberals did themselves no favour by speaking out against the Agricultural Land Reserve, saying that decision-making was being taken away from farmers. That’s too little too late, as the wholesale destruction of the best farmland in Canada has morphed into a get rich quick scheme for exploiting tax loopholes for the super rich, and making multi-million dollar profit for the estate developers. It is time to respond to the wholesale destruction of farmland as if food security and the need for a farming future truly was important.

 

 

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There is little doubt that in October 2018, Vancouver voters will put in place an almost all-rookie City Council (40 candidates now in the mix).  The winning Mayor (now 11 seekers) may be a rookie too, or may be experienced in another level of government, but not at civic level on Vancouver-related issues.

It does bring up the topic of learning curve — a substantial issue for anyone stepping into a leadership and decision-making role amid the swirl of a complex enterprise, which the City of Vancouver most certainly is.

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Melody Ma said it boldly in her tweet on Carlito Pablo’s story in The Georgia Straight about the new housing development proposed at 835-837 East Hastings Street.

 

One of Chinatown’s clan associations, the Lee’s Benevolent Association of Canada purchased the site to redevelop into a 6 storey mixed-use development which would include retail/office on the street floor,  with 39 units exclusively for non-market  seniors rental above.

The reason? “Lee’s Benevolent believes this project is a great opportunity for…aging Chinese seniors in the neighbourhood to remain close to the Chinatown community with its associated sense of community, social opportunities, shopping, groceries, produce, and other supports,” according to a letter by George Lee to the City of Vancouver.”

Many Chinese seniors want to live independently as they age, and being able to live close to places that seniors habituate as part of their community is vitally important.  But there is also an aspect of sociability and bringing cultural attention to Chinatown too, connecting seniors’ living spaces to areas of cultural importance. Carlo Pablito cites the Chinatown Senior Housing Feasibility Study produced in 2015 by the City of Vancouver and the Province.

This study indicates that “over 90 per cent of Vancouver’s Chinese seniors are first generation immigrants and most of them speak a Chinese dialect at home. They have unique needs in addition to all the critical issues faced by all Canadian seniors due to their limited language capacity and understanding of the available support systems. Recent research from UBC has concluded that in the next 15 years up to 3,300 Chinese seniors in the City of Vancouver will need subsidized housing that offers culturally and linguistically an appropriate environment.”

The Chinese Benevolent societies and family associations have traditionally viewed their purpose as ensuring that seniors can participate culturally in the community and feel connected to it. Several societies have also expanded their mandate to include seniors’ lower cost housing in society owned structures in Chinatown and adjacent Strathcona.

The Lee Benevolent Society’s proposal by architect Patrick Stewart is currently before the City of Vancouver for approval. In the words of the watchful Changing City website, the proposed building’s design ” isn’t particularly exciting, but given the location, and the budget available that’s not at all surprising. The use is the most important aspect of this building; 39 social housing units for Chinese seniors… The scale actually fits very well with a number of hundred year old apartment buildings now used as SRO (single room occupant)  hotels.”

 images: CBC.ca

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In October, Vancouver’s 2018 civic election will produce a Council with, at the most, 3 incumbents:

  • Adriane Carr
  • Heather Deal
  • Melissa De Genova.

Change looks like this.

 

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