April 17, 2023

50th Anniversary of the Agricultural Land Commission Act

Shaundehl Runka passes along this note from ALR/ALC historical expert Barry Smith.  (There is one minor amendment to the document as Gord Dowding was in fact in the House as Speaker.)

 

50 Years of Farmland Preservation

On April 18, 1973 the Land Commission Act, forerunner of today’s Agricultural Land Commission Act, was given Royal Assent and was passed into law.

During the later part of 1972 and until the Act’s passage, the government received support from several quarters but also came under heavy, at times extreme, criticism in the pursuit of their policy to preserve British Columbia’s farmland. Through this tumultuous period the government of the day persevered.

Fifty years ago on April 17, 1973 Hansard records that there were 34 British Columbians, in the 30th Parliament (2nd Session), who rose in the B.C. legislature to approve third reading and passage of the Land Commission Act.

This was a landmark piece of legislation. There was nothing like it in any other jurisdiction in North America at the time. It provided the legal foundation to advance the government’s policy of farmland preservation.

Over the last half century there have been ups and some downs in the delivery of the programme but the primary objective originally assigned to the Land Commission, to preserve agricultural land for farm use”, remains basically unaltered.

In recognition and in humble thanks, I have attached a list of the 34 individuals (plus four others) responsible for the passing of this visionary legislation that is still benefiting British Columbians to this day.

Hansard lists the following 34 members of the legislative assembly that voted in favour of 3rd reading and passage of the Land Commission Act on April 17, 1973.

Carl Liden                          Delta

Douglas Kelly                   Omineca

Gerald Anderson            Kamloops

Roy Cummings                Vancouver- Little Mountain

Jack A. Radford               Vancouver South

Alfred Nunweiler           Fort George

David Barrett                   Coquitlam

James Gorst                     Esquimalt

Gary Lauk                          Vancouver Centre

William Hartley              Yale-Lillooet

Dennis Cocke                  New Westminster

Norman Levi                    Vancouver-Burrard

Donald Lewis                  Shuswap

Harold Steves                 Richmond

Peter Rolston                  Dewdney

Christopher D’Arcy        Rossland-Trail

Rosemary Brown           Vancouver-Burrard                                                  

Robert Strachan             Cowichan-Malahat

Alexander Macdonald  Vancouver East

Phyllis Young                   Vancouver- Little Mountain

Colin Gabelmann           North Vancouver-Seymour

Frank Calder                    Atlin

Robert Williams             Vancouver East

Daisy Webster                Vancouver South

Emery Barnes                  Vancouver Centre

Hartley Dent                    Skeena

Karen Sanford                 Comox

Lorne Nicolson               Nelson-Creston

Eileen Daily                      Burnaby North

Ernie Hall                          Surrey

Graham Lea                     Prince Rupert

Robert Skelly                   Alberni

William King                    Revelstoke-Slocan

James Lorimer                Burnaby-Willingdon

 

There were four members of the governing party that Hansard does not record as being in the legislature at the time of the vote on third reading and passage of the Act. These were Gordon Dowding (Burnaby-Edmonds), Leo Nimsick (Kootenay), Don Lockstead (Mackenzie) and ironically David Stupich, (Nanaimo) the Minister of Agriculture.

Mr. Stupich, however, is recorded in Hansard as being prominent in leading the section-by-section review of Bill 42 on April 14 and 16, 1973, which, at its conclusion Premier David Barrett stated in part:

“I want to personally express my public appreciation to our Minister of Agriculture (Hon. Mr. Stupich), who has taken this pioneering bill through a very emotional and unnecessarily unwarranted personal attack against him . . . , but I want to publicly thank him for taking this bill through.”

In the 1972 Department of Agriculture Annual Report, Minister Stupich made the government’s intentions concerning farmland preservation quite clear when remarking: 

“There are those among us who tend to assume that British Columbia is a land of boundless resources to be freely exploited under the guise of “progress.” We can forgive those early settlers who subscribed to this view, but today we know that is patently untrue. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in our agriculture. It has become firmly established that there are very definite limits to the extent of land area in this Province that can be profitably devoted to agricultural pursuits. 

Because of this it is essential that every effort be made to ensure that such land be preserved, not only in the interests of our agricultural industry itself but for the common good as well.” 

If anything Mr. Stupich’s comments are even more relevant today. In mountainous B.C. the physical context within which the B.C. farmland resource rests has not changed. But the number of British Columbians has more than doubled – 2.2 million (1971) to 5.2 million (2021).

By any measure the Land Commission Act was a visionary piece of legislation representing a paradigm shift. The post Second World War tendency to view farmland as urban land in waiting was fundamentally altered by the designation of a provincially inspired agricultural reserve within which farming and ranching were the uses of priority. The designating of the Agricultural Land Reserve was strongly based on the nationwide Canada land inventory and designated only after a process involving public hearings held by the various Regional Districts, a review by the Land Commission, and finally a reconsideration and ultimate approval by Cabinet.[1]

With hindsight it has been noted that, “It is impossible not to be impressed by the qualities of the political act which grasped the farmland nettle in British Columbia. It is skilful, logical, bold and strong.”[2]  Further, “The creation of the B.C. Land Commission is considered a major event in the evolution of regional planning in Canada as well as in planning for conservation, resource development, and the environment.”[3]

It is worth reflecting that this far-reaching, progressive legislation enhanced sustainability 14 years prior to the term coming into vogue in the Brundtland Report “Our Common Future” completed by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987.

Today only five of the 34 members of the legislature that approved the Land Commission Act, along with their four colleagues not in the house that day, are still with us. But their leadership 50 years ago has contributed to a more resilient British Columbia as we collectively face the challenges of climate change.

For this they deserve our recognition, our thanks and our remembrance.

 

 

[1]   See speech W. Lane, Public and Private Rights in Land: Regulation vs. Taking For Comparison: The British Experience; January 30, 1976

[2]    Wilson, J.W & J.T. Pierce, The Agricultural Land Commission of British Columbia, Environments, Vol. 14, No. 3, 1982.

[3]  Hodge, G., & L.M. Robinson, Planning Canadian Regions, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2001

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Comments

  1. The ALR concept was a great historic move and we are still benefitting from it. Harold Steves is still one of the biggest defenders of the ALR, especially in Richmond.

    It is sad to see it being whittled down by politics. In my mind, if land is removed, then equivalent land with similar potential needs to be added back with net zero changes.

  2. Absolutely a courageous and important policy decision.

    However as I understand it, the second part of the policy: to protect farmers and farming, was never fully implemented.

    As a result, my farmer friends tell me farming in the Fraser Valley is doomed due to speculative prices on land from people betting on the end of the ALR because farming is uneconomical.

    Sad.

  3. This got me thinking about the nexus between this landmark legislation and Oregon’s similarly seminal land use laws created in the early 70’s under Tom McCall. Was it just us Oregon and BC that undertook these significant protections? Is this just a product of the late 60’s and early 70’s wave of environmental protections or something more specific to the the Pacific Northwest? (BC does consider itself part of the PNW right or is that just wishful thinking by us State-siders?)

  4. Gordon Dowding (NDP Burnaby-Edmonds) WAS in the Legislature that day, He was presiding as Speaker of the House, and as such played no role in voting for or against the legislation.

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