Stop the Swap
The debate over the so-called ‘Land Swap’ in Summerland represents a glimpse into the future of a province where the independent Agricultural Land Commission could lose its autonomy from government.
Last November, The Globe and Mail reported the provincial government is considering "effectively dismantling" the ALC by bringing it into the Ministry of Agriculture, while expanding the land use decision-making powers of the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.
Around the same time, Richard Bullock, Chair of the Land Commission, spoke to the purpose of the Agricultural Land Reserve at a meeting of the BC Institute of Agrologists in Victoria: "The ALR exists because British Columbia has long recognized that ALR land [would] succumb every time anyone proposed a development on particular land that proponents and politicians viewed on an ad hoc basis as being more economically favourable than the current land use; expedient and even short-sighted decisions would often follow to the long-term detriment of the province’s agricultural base."
Politicians making expedient and short-sighted decisions? That is exactly what is happening in Summerland right now. And if not for the ALC, they would probably get away with it.
The local Council is backing a new Official Community Plan that would reverse years of community consultation and multiple community plans that have concentrated residential development on hillsides around Summerland in order to preserve for agriculture the flat, farming-friendly lands at the bottom of those hills.
Under the proposed plan, over 80 hectares of some of Summerland’s best farming land would be removed from the ALR to be developed into housing.
To compensate, Council wants to add just over 90 hectares of rocky, hilly land to the ALR—much of which was deemed "marginal" for agriculture ten years ago when it was removed from the ALR to make way for a failed development west of town.
Two Councillors own some of the land that would be swapped out of the Land Reserve and have recused themselves from voting on the matter.
I am a part of a group called Stop the Swap that has organized to protest the plan. We are young, we have a stake in the future of Summerland, and we have the support of the majority of our community.
Of all the input the District of Summerland has solicited from the public, opposition to the plan has outnumbered support by a proportion of 4-1.
We have collected nearly 3,000 signatures to our petition to stop the swap, including 1,200 from Summerland alone (it can be found online at you.leadnow.ca).
In February, we held a rally attended by many hundreds of supporters and endorsed by the Farmland Protection Coalition, who held a rally of their own on the same day in front of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria. The next month, so many concerned people came out to the Public Hearing regarding the land swap that Council had to schedule a second one after at least 50 people were left outside the 270-person venue.
Despite this large-scale opposition to the plan, Council has already voted once in favour of it at the time of writing and all indications are that they will not change their minds.
At the latest Council meeting, Summerland Mayor Janice Perrino said of the opposition that the public must be misinformed. "We have several Councillors in favour of this plan and we have several staff who are in favour of this plan," said Perrino. "The community just does not understand."
We very much understand the value of farming land and the role of a Land Reserve to protect it.
Our group is hopeful Council will listen to the people, but if they do not the ultimate decision will fall to the ALC.
That’s why a strong independent ALC is so important. Without it, this decision would be left to elected officials like the ones in Summerland. That is not a fate anyone, in Summerland or anywhere else in BC, should let stand. ■
Alexander Thistlewood is a thirty year-old Summerlander and a founding member of Stop the Swap. This is an opinion article and does not represent the opinions of Orchard and Vine. If you’d like to submit an opinion article, send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org