landowner rights vs. community rights

I got a ping-back on my blog yesterday on a post about the Agricultural Land Reserve that reminded me just how important it is for folks like me to buy into the ALR if we can.

The ALR is hotly contested here in BC, for good reason. Even the goofballs over at the Fraser Institute have weighed in. (You can read what I had to say about that nonsense here.)

Most folks on both sides of the fence would say overall, it’s not working.

Ok so, basic premise of the ALR is to reserve prime farmland for – gasp – FARMING!!! What a novel idea.

Seems simple enough, right?

Not so much.

So here we are, a young couple in our early 30s with a family. We’re lucky enough to have bought into the ridiculously expensive Vancouver housing market in our mid-20’s. Since then, housing values in the city have continued to soar.

You’d think we’d have enough equity to easily purchase a nice little farm out of town on the ALR. Surely prices for land reserved for farming would be reasonable.

Nope.

Thing is, there’s a few problems with the ALR system.

  • Monster houses with acres of manicured lawns are just as common as actual farming operations. Folks price their land as “rural estates”, not farms.
  • Even if you’re not actively farming, you still get the tax break provided by the ALR zoning.
  • The ALR is slowly being eroded. Developers and speculators purchase property under the premise (sadly, probably correctly) that eventually the ALR will be rezoned and they’ll be able to develop it or sell it at a premium price. Prices reflect this speculation.
  • It seems all too easy to rezone property. When developers do move in with intent to rezone, the community has to fight tooth and nail, just to try to keep the land zoned AS IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO REMAIN.
  • There seems to be little real protection for the land itself. Two five acre parcels near the farm we’re looking at have been allowed to be used as junkyards for who knows how long. I can only imagine what is leaching into the soil on these properties.
  • Landowners in the ALR argue that it limits their right to do what they want with their property and realize the economic benefits of their property.

The last point is probably the most pivotal of them all, and one where I have some weird shared values with those who hold opposite points of view on the matter.

I believe that overall, when it comes to farming, government is a hinderance, not a help to small farmers.

Regulations and legislation are shaped by industry lobbyists and well (or not so) well-meaning bureaucrats. When applied equally across the board, from huge agro-industry giants to tiny Mom and Pop shops, the result is the big boys get away with murder, and Mom and Pop lose the farm.

I exaggerate a little, but not really.

To put my views in context, my political views lean to the left. (No kidding, you say.)

BUT – I’ve also worked in both provincial and federal levels of government. I know how inefficient and nonsensical it is from first hand experience. The longer I worked for government, the more I was convinced we could do with a lot less government in many areas in our lives.

Unfortunately, it seems we’re getting more government in areas we don’t need and, and less government in areas where we do.

As I write this our Parliament is involved in a marathon vote for one of the most undemocratic documents in Canadian history, the ridiculous C-38 Omnibus Budget Bill. A perfect example of too much government with too much power.

(For my non-Canadian readers – the ironic note here is our government currently has a Conservative majority. They’re our (slightly) toned-down version of the Republicans. Surprising, yes, being that most Canadians still cling to our semi-socialist identity. Go figure.)

However.

This is one area where more government would do us all some good.

When it comes to curbing individual freedoms, I think I’d rather see the freedom to make money off of the sale and destruction of prime farmland curbed before the freedom to EAT is curbed.

Just as we all value freedom of speech (ok, maybe not the Harper Government, but most Canadians do) we also agree that there must be limits to that speech. We agree that it is better for everyone if that fundamental right is curbed to prevent the spread of hate.

The common good comes before the individual’s right to act like an asshole.

I think about that Mark Twain quote often :

Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.

I would argue access to good, clean and fair food is equally important as free speech.

A strong statement, yes.

However, in a world where the law has declared that we do not have a fundamental right to grow and consume food of our choice, I think it’s necessary to say so.

To demand so.

We only have the rights we exercise.

We can’t defend and claim our right to good, clean, fair food unless we have good, clean land to grow it on.

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