If ever there was someone in Metro Vancouver who is an unsung hero and should be receiving the Order of Canada it is Richmond City Councillor Harold Steves, who is a farmer, ecologist, and one of the longest serving City Councillors in Canada. It’s no surprise that we’ve all followed up on why Mr. Steves has not been tapped for the honour only to find that you cannot receive the Order of Canada while you are an elected official. That will change at the next civic election, as Mr. Steves has announced he will be retiring from Council.
Mr. Steves and his family still work the land, and his family set up the first seed company in the province. The town of Steveston was named after his forebears. He is also a founding father of the Agricultural Land Reserve which protects agricultural land in British Columbia from urbanization and land development. The Class 1 soils found in the Fraser River delta are the richest in Canada, and represent a mere half a percent of all agricultural soils.
Richmond City Council as a whole has not been ecologically forward in the past and was complicit in allowing “farmer’s houses” as large as 24,000 square feet to be be built on prime agricultural land. But surprise! These large estates were exploiting a loophole.
“Farms” were being bought at an agricultural land price as they are in the Agricultural Land Reserve and redeveloped with large mansions. These mansions quickly turned into multi-million dollar gated estates, exempt from the foreign buyers’ tax with a large land lift as these countrified estates demand top dollar with offshore purchasers. Lands will never return to agricultural use and are now economically out of the reach of farming buyers. To add insult, if the farm produced some blueberries or a horse it also qualified for a much reduced farm property tax.
The City of Richmond Mayor and Council allowed mansions of over 10,783 square feet to be built on agricultural land over one half-acre in size. The City of Richmond has forgotten its farming past by dithering and not making the responsible decision to limit houses on farmland to 5,382 square feet, still a remarkably large size. Arable land is being squandered for future generations by short-sighted developer profit, most of it in offshore holdings. There’s even a Richmond Farmland Owners Association but look at the nuance~they are “owners” not “farmers”, advocating on getting the top buck for their purchased properties with limited restrictions on the size of the residences.
Finally Metro Vancouver asked the Province to bring in legislation to limit house size and to discourage the use of agricultural land for other purposes. While that legislation is now adopted, the City of Richmond decided to allow applications in process still to be built, resulting in more agricultural land built behemoths masquerading as exclusive offshore owned estates.
Councillor Harold Steves has been there every step of the way, tirelessly reminding citizens and council the importance of land. He notes that there is a reason that Richmond was known as the “Garden City” and that is is important to maintain food security and steward future farmers in the region. He is giving two years of notice so that another agricultural land advocate like Jack Trovato can consider running, to ensure that “the pro development at any cost” faction of Richmond Council does not allow more farmland to become private estate grounds.
Thank you Mr. Steves for all that you have done to educate about the importance of the land and to maintain farming in our region for present and future generations. We are all better for it.
Why now? June 30th Kathy & I celebrated our 60th anniversary of marriage & activism together. After 50yrs on #RichmondBC Council, recently electing some younger people to take my place, it’s a good time to announce retirement to give them 2yrs to prepare https://t.co/Nn5JxJqeyY
— ClimateChange Steves (@Harold_Steves) July 12, 2020
Images: Postmedia & CTV