The David Suzuki Foundation has just released a report entitled “Forever Farmland: Reshaping The Agricultural Land Reserve For The 21st Century”. The report focusses solely on pressures directed at British Columbia's Agricultural Reserve. But its general principles extend much further and apply to pressures on agricultural land in all other areas of Canada and in all other areas of the world.
To put the report in a larger historical context, the report's author, journalist Charles Campbell, quotes Canadian historian Ronald Wright, author of “A Short History of Progress”. The latter is an examination of the reasons for the collapse of civilizations over the past 5000 years. Mr. Wright points to the critical importance of farmland and food security. At a recent conference in the Vancouver area, Mr. Wright stated that if he had to summarize the contents of his book, he would do so in three points: (1) “Don't build on your agricultural land. (2) Don't build on your agricultural land. (3) Don't build on your agricultural land.”
Immigration Watch Canada applauds the David Suzuki Foundation's “Forever Farmland” report. However, we urge the foundation to add one key recommendation: High Immigration Levels and Farmland Preservation Are Incompatible
Statistics Canada figures show that only about 11% of all of Canada's enormous land base is suitable for agriculture. Only about 1/2 of 1% of all of Canada's land base is classified as Class 1 agricultural land, the highest quality farm land. Ontario has 52% of all of this Class 1 agricultural land.
In contrast to Ontario, British Columbia is agriculturally impoverished. The Suzuki Report states that British Columbia has only 1.4% of all of Canada's agricultural land. Recognizing this extremely limited resource, British Columbia's provincial government, with considerable foresight, established an Agricultural Land Reserve in 1973. About 5% of B.C.'s total land base was put into this reserve. However, most of this land is rangeland which is suitable only for cattle grazing. A tiny 1% of British Columbia's total land base is categorized as Class 1. All of that Class 1 land is facing enormous pressure from population growth.
(Note 1: British Columbia is the only province in Canada with such a reserve. In most provinces, there is an open season on agricultural land. This open season is most evident in provinces such as Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta. Particular parts of these provinces (especially southern areas in Ontario where soil and climate are suitable for agriculture) are facing tremendous pressure to convert farmland to housing. British Columbia's land reserve has enabled it to put up considerable resistance to population pressure, but the lack of reserves in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta has resulted in very large amounts of Canada's best farmland being converted to housing. As experts have repeatedly pointed out, this land has been virtually lost to agriculture.)
(Note 2: Two factors require attention: As many experts have stated, like oil wealth in other parts of the world, Canadian oil wealth will not last. Cheap oil, which has been used to transport food, will become expensive and increasingly scarce. All countries will learn that it is critically important for food supplies to be closeby. Ironically, the refining of western Canada's oil sands and all of the greenhouse gases that are being produced as a result of the refining process, may hasten the return of Canada's prairies to the dust bowl condition which it has occupied in most of its past. The role of Canada's prairies as Canada's “bread basket” will not last.
(Dr. David Schindler, an ecology professor at the University of Alberta, and co-author of a report recently published on-line in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says he expects such arid conditions that “immigration into Alberta should be restricted in light of looming water shortages”. “Dr. Schindler says 'a crisis in water quantity and quality with far-reaching implications' is likely to hit the Prairies because of global warming and evidence indicating the 20th century was a climatic fluke, the only extended period of moist conditions the region has had during the past 2,000 years.”
(“For those living on the Prairies, one of the most disturbing findings from the study was that summertime river flows have been falling precipitously and are 20 per cent to 84 per cent lower than they were in the early 20th century.The worst hit — with the 84-per-cent drop — has been the South Saskatchewan River, at Saskatoon, where the river is a fraction of its former size, in part because of heavy withdrawals for irrigation, industry, and municipal uses on its major tributaries, the Oldman, Bow, and Red Deer rivers.” Ironically, Alberta is experiencing explosive population growth because of its oil sands.) (See the reference to a Toronto Globe and Mail article below.)
The Suzuki Foundation Report makes a number of significant observations about British Columbia's Agricultural Land Reserve:
(1) For most of the ALR's 33 year history, ALR administrators took a hard line towards removal of agricultural land. With some exceptions, mostly due to political interference, they effectively performed the task they were assigned. In 2002, however, the provincial government significantly weakened the ALR by turning over decision-making from one central provincial panel to six smaller regional panels. This has resulted in the larger “provincial interest” being lost and replaced by the narrower “community interest”. In the past four years, these panels have been allowing the removal of agricultural land at an alarming rate.
The Report recommends that the larger “provincial interest” must be restored through a series of measures directed at the smaller panels. The Suzuki Foundation Report states that the provincial government has to declare that preservation of agricultural land must take precedence over all other matters. The purpose of this declaration would be to clearly remove the current impression that the agricultural land reserve is a land “bank” from which parcels can be “withdrawn” for housing or industrial use.
(2) The Suzuki Foundation Report also states that the provincial government has to do research to improve the viability of farming, to discourage alienation of farmland from agricultural use and to find ways to dampen speculation on farmland. Its general goal should be “to develop policies that support farms and farming practices that contribute to the health of communities and the environment”. “Municipalities and regional districts must plan to protect existing agricultural land as a permanent legacy for future generations.” (P. 27)
Noticeably absent from the Suzuki Foundation Report is any mention of the effect of Canada's mass immigration policies on the goals of the Agricultural Land Reserve. It is clear that in British Columbia, the recent inflow of hundreds of thousands of immigrants to areas bordered by Class 1 farmland has put enormous pressure on all of the cities and municipalities in the Greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley areas to expand housing into those Class 1 farmland areas. It has resulted in actual removals (and in many applications for future removals) of agricultural land from the Reserve. (A much worse situation exists in southern Ontario which has absorbed the bulk of Canada's recent immigrants and which has converted huge amounts of valuable farmland to housing and other services for its new arrivals.)
An appropriate late recommendation from the David Suzuki Foundation is desperately required. The Foundation should urge B.C.'s provincial government to immediately begin internal discussions and then meet with the Alberta, Quebec and Ontario provincial governments to consider the direct and indirect impact of high immigration levels on agricultural land. They should next meet collectively with the federal government to discuss the incompatibility of high immigration levels with preservation of farmland. The general goal of the meetings should be to have immigration levels reduced in order to relieve pressure on agricultural land in southern British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta and to ensure that the long-term food security in all of these areas is protected.
END OF PRESS RELEASE
NOTE: Go to the Immigration Watch Canada web site (News Articles-Canadian+). See April 4, 2006: “Forecast For Prairies: Drier Than A Dust Bowl”.