Editorial: Seeking balance with farmland

Saanich council reversed its ideologically driven position of preserving every scrap of agricultural land.

On Monday night Saanich council reversed its ideologically driven position of preserving every scrap of agricultural land, even at the expense of logic or fairness to property owners.

Council voted to ask the provincial Agricultural Land Commission to rule on excluding four acres from the agricultural land reserve, which resides in what is now a residential neighbourhood in Gordon Head.

Most Saanich councillors, and indeed the majority of civic politicians across the Capital Region, are loathe to bulldoze farmland for housing subdivisions.

Top restaurants in Victoria boast about using local produce, farmers’ markets can’t keep up with demand, and gardening and hobby-farming are popular across the region.

But when 150 people showed up in Saanich council chambers and explained why a cattle feed lot or poultry farm is clearly a bad idea in the midst of suburbia, the politicians could sense which way the wind was blowing.

Sending the issue to the ALC isn’t the same as endorsing housing on the land in question, and the process could take a year, but it is a significant shift in thinking.

But what is most refreshing is that most councillors were able to budge from ideologically entrenched positions. This is what voters want from local politicians – the ability to listen to residents and weigh what makes sense. Even one-time farmer and current MLA Lana Popham agreed that when a municipality allows neighbourhoods to crop up around farmland, holding onto isolated parcels is punitive on the landowner.

If municipalities want to ensure property is preserved for agriculture, at times it will need to buy the land, which is what Saanich did for Panama Flats, and which the mayor is pushing for inclusion into the agricultural land reserve.

The vast majority ALR and non-ALR farmland in the region, though, resides in Central and North Saanich, and Metchosin. Excluding remnants amid suburban residential neighbourhoods doesn’t represent the destruction of farming.