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Observations from another BC sojourn… farmland just continues to disappear

Visiting BC always seems to be a venture of contrasting images. It has magnificent vistas, incredible geography, intriguing history and myriad curiosities. Yet one also sees endless coal trains from the USA and BC Kootenays, 200 massive logging trucks clogging Vancouver streets protesting government inaction, and one sees the mindless desecration and destruction of precious farmland in the Fraser valley and river delta area. At the same time hundreds of school-skipping urban students were partaking in a global strike to save the planet. Considering the miniscule part Canada plays in planet destruction one might have hoped those naïve young folks had concentrated on striking against environmental calamities in their own backyard. Heaven forbid – that might require young BC green zealots (and surely older BC green hypocrites) to look in the mirror. But I digress.
What emerges is that BC seems hell-bent to destroy its agricultural production and heritage, particularly in the lower mainland. That observation was the outcome of farm tours your humble columnist and his patient wife took whilst attending the annual convention of the Canadian Farm Writers Federation in New Westminster BC. Here is the scene – the Fraser River delta, the largest of its kind in North America, has some of the finest class one soils on the planet. Starting around 1880 it developed into an incredibly productive and diverse commercial agriculture industry. But starting in 1960 farmland loss began in earnest – that has seen hundreds of thousands of productive acres covered by residential and industrial development, a massive seaport, and hundreds of miles of highways and railways. Incredibly, it just continues, perhaps a classic example of human greed, and as usual political expediency. The latter is central to how it got this way. To be fair, the Fraser valley and delta are not the only places in the world this mindless development occurs. But for Canada, with its very limited supply of first-class farmland in a moderate climatic zone, its absolutely critical.
Farmland preservation always boils down to strict zoning with no exemptions. But alas, the latter is hard to enforce especially if left in the hands of local authorities, many of whom are prone to influence by land development interests. Along with that development came never-ending demands for more and better roads, highways, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure all of which required ever more acres of farmland. Its all history now, but couldn’t there have been more land development on the rougher north side of the Fraser river. Where farmland exploitation has really got out of hand is around the Delta super port – its next to the BC ferry terminal. That’s the location where all that BC export coal is loaded (even American export coal all the way from Wyoming) and now its also a massive container handling facility. One wonders why the Vancouver harbour oil export terminal wasn’t relocated to this out of the way site. The Delta port authority has expropriated thousands of acres of farmland for its industrial use; as a federal government agency it is exempt from any land zoning. In addition, the adjacent First Nation reserve has leased out hundreds of acres of farmland for commercial development – its also exempt from any land zoning restrictions. I guess some First Nations are more pro-development than others. Port development seems rather duplicitous, why wasn’t it built more out into the adjoining strait – most major seaports (Rotterdam, Singapore, etc.) are now built almost exclusively on reclaimed land. I guess its just easier to expropriate existing land and to hell with its farming capability.
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