Tending the land on a farm in Delta.

Ottawa must not raid ALR land for port: NDP

Provincial government under pressure to defend farmland

B.C. must insist the federal government abstain from using its powers to override the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and industrialize large swathes of Delta farmland for port-related uses, according to the NDP Opposition.

New Democrat MLAs tabled a motion in the Legislature Thursday that would ask Ottawa to agree not to exempt land acquired by Port Metro Vancouver from the land reserve.

At issue is the fate of 600 acres of ALR land in South Delta near Deltaport that developers have secured options to purchase with a view to selling to Port Metro Vancouver.

Agriculture defenders say the area it’s prime farmland that should not be lost and each chunk that is converted threatens the region’s long-term food security.

“We want to hear that the Liberal government will fight to protect this farmland from being excluded using a loophole that allows the federal government to pull land out of the reserve without going through the Agricultural Land Commission,” NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham said.

Agriculture Minister Don McRae responded in the Legislature, saying he expects the port and anyone else seeking to withdraw land from the ALR to apply to the land commission and work through the normal process.

“The ALC will do what it does well,” he said. “It defends its mandate: preserving farmland, protecting farmers in British Columbia. I have no reason to think otherwise.”

That wasn’t good enough for Delta-North NDP MLA Guy Gentner, who said the Opposition will continue to prod the BC LIberals to take a stand.

“It’s been duck and hide,” he said.

Delta-South independent MLA Vicki Huntington is also fighting the farmland deal.

She’s circulating a petition that will be tabled in Victoria.

Port Metro Vancouver officials have said developing agricultural land to expand the port and serve the Pacific Gateway would be a last resort, but they do not rule it out.

They have also made controversial statements that the ALR is increasingly in conflict with other objectives, such as ensuring enough land is available for industry and jobs.

Only five per cent of B.C.’s land base is productive farmland and the province produces only about half as much food as residents consume, with fruits and vegetables being in particularly short supply.