Crowd rallies at legislature to support agricultural land reserve

About 1,000 people were on the lawns of the B.C. legislature on Family Day Monday for a “food for the future” rally, seeking to preserve the province’s agricultural land reserve.

The rally was put together by the Farmland Protection Coalition and endorsed by about 50 organizations — from the National Farmers Union to the B.C. Federation of Labour, organizers said.

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The noon-hour rally attracted several NDP and Green politicians and a diverse group of citizens waving placards that included the phrases: “Protect Agricultural Lands Against Oil Pipelines”; “Maintain B.C.’s Food Security”; “Getting Rid of the ALR Is Not the Answer”; and the “ALR is awesome,” held by a young girl.

“British Columbians from all walks of life are coming together to demand that Premier Christy Clark and her government respect the autonomy of the Agricultural Land Reserve, strengthen the Agricultural Land Commission [an independent Crown agency] and uphold the spirit and the letter of the Land Commission Act,” Nathalie Chambers, a Saanich farmer and co-chairwoman of the Farmland Protection Coalition, said prior to the event.

The movement to protect farmland picked up momentum in November when leaked cabinet documents suggested B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm was proposing to restrain the Agricultural Land Commission and give more power over farmland to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.

“Site C power project is already being excluded from the ALR core review,” Chambers said to the crowd. “Our voices are not being heard. Why? Why?

“We write letters, and we’re not being heard, so we had to put billboards on the Pat Bay Highway north and south so when the elected officials leave [today] after the [speech from the throne], they will see what British Columbians want as they race to the ferry,” Chambers told cheering crowd.

The ALR protects agricultural land in the province.

NDP Leader Adrian Dix charges the government is out to dismantle the land commission.

Farmers need to be able to grow food for the future, Chambers said. She introduced a long list of speakers. One of them was Cowichan Valley farmer Dan Ferguson, vice-president of the Cowichan Agricultural Society and a member of the executive of the National Farmers Union. He said British Columbians should be outraged the province is trying to dismantle the ALR. “Farms on Vancouver Island are the lifeboats for our communities,” Ferguson said.

“Currently, we are importing 97 per cent of our food. If there is ever a disaster, there is only three days of food at any given time on this Island. Very few people are growing any of our needs,” he said.

Ferguson said strengthening the commission and expanding the Agricultural Land Reserve is fundamental to food sovereignty for the province and Vancouver Island and its future generations.

Ferguson said he was buoyed by the large size of the crowd: “I’m proud of British Columbians.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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