Fraser Institute says scrap the ALR

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Farmers, local politicians argue report is ideological and full of errors

Brian Lewis

Fraser Institute author blames Agricultural Land Reserve for region’s high housing costs. Photograph by: Les Bazso file, The Province

The right-wing Fraser Institute unveiled a shocker yesterday — any time your tummy rumbles and you satisfy that craving with locally produced food, you are contributing directly to B.C.’s high housing costs.

No kidding, the think-tank’s news release on its latest study didn’t mince words: “B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve a Costly Failure Responsible for the Most Expensive Housing Costs in North America.”

According to study author Diane Katz, not only has protecting B.C. farmland from housing and industrial development for the past 35 years triggered very high housing prices, but she says the whole idea of the benefits in producing food locally is a crock anyway.

“The policy failures of the Agricultural Land Reserve and its costly consequences supply ample justification to dismantle the program,” the author writes. “The restoration of property rights and economic freedom to B.C. landowners would have immediate and long-lasting benefits . . . Ultimately the preservation of farmland should be relegated to the private sector.”

As you can imagine, reaction to this study was predictably brisk and brutal in some quarters, and that’s not surprising, given the Fraser Institute ‘swell-earned reputation for never letting facts get in the way of its ideology.

Garnet Etsell, for example, simply laughed when first asked about the paper. He’s chairman of the Abbotsford-based B.C. Agricultural Council that represents the province’s food producers.

“I think there’s a lot of ideology talking in this report,” he said, while trying to suppress a chuckle.

“It says B.C. has the most strict agricultural land regulations in the country but we also have the most mountains and less than five per cent of our land mass is arable,” Etsell tells me.

“Agricultural land here is scarce and, if we don’t protect it, the land will be lost to development. While the Agricultural Land Commission isn’t perfect, we also know that building houses is easiest on farmland.”

Etsell also slams the paper’s views on locally produced food and points out that it conveniently ignores the fact that local producers, such as those in the Fraser Valley, also export just over half their total production.

The chairwoman of the Fraser Valley Regional District, Patricia Ross, wasn’t impressed, either.

“Sure there are some problems with the Agricultural Land Commission, but this study suggests we throw the baby out with the bath water,” she says. “It’s essential we keep the Agricultural Land Reserve, but it does need fixing so it’s less politicized.

“Don’t forget that the Fraser Valley has some of the richest and most productive farmland in the world.

“Unfortunately, this study makes an assumption that the housing market is more important than producing food — and that doesn’t make sense.”

And Rhonda Driediger, who owns the 64-hectare Driediger berry farm in Langley Township, also doesn’t buy the Fraser Institute argument.

“I think the Agricultural Land Reserve is doing what it was designed to do,” she says. “Of course consumers buy local and imported food but there’s a nice balance between the two.

“Nor is everything that’s produced locally consumed locally,” she adds. “I’m actually a net exporter.”

There you go, Fraser Institute — a little food for thought.

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