It was controversial and hotly contested legislation at the time, but it is now credited with saving thousands of acres of prime farmland in Delta from developer victimization.
Fresh off its victory in the provincial election the previous year, the NDP government introduced what is still considered sweeping legislation in 1973, creating a development exclusion zone aimed at protecting arable farmland.
Upon its introduction, the ALR elicited an immediate and negative reaction from many Delta farmers, developers and owners.
The legislation was introduced at a very different time in the municipality, an era of phenomenal growth after the opening of the George Massey Tunnel more than a decade earlier.
The person who took the biggest hit of the 1973 outcry in Delta was Carl Liden, the NDP MP for the riding.
At a special meeting of the Delta Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Committee in January of that year, Liden did his best to explain why set-aside was necessary, saying that speculators owned most of the land. Delta farmland.
Noting that farmers approached him in favor of the freeze, Liden said the government’s position was “to make the best use of the land for the whole population and to save farmland, but not at the expense of the farmer”.
Committee chairman John Friesen offered a brief critique of the plan, saying Delta farmland had been “shamefully violated by all three levels of government”, causing an untenable situation for farmers who remained in the area as than landowners. He said it was “grossly unfair to require this land to remain in agricultural production in an area that is neither economically suitable for agriculture nor in harmony with the surrounding community”.
Friesen blamed the George Massey Tunnel, highways, superport, railroad and many other land expropriations for “striking the spirit of agriculture”.
Liden would also get a listening ear at a heated public meeting in Ladner that year, where more than 1,000 people showed up to express their anger. At the rally, local farmers and landowners criticized New Democrats, saying the government was grabbing land without doing enough to help farmers.
Liden again attempted to explain that the real estate companies owned extensive land in Delta.
“I don’t think their intention is to farm the land,” he said.
At a meeting of the South Delta Taxpayer Society in 1973, Liden noted that the government was helping the farmer with legislation because “this bill will keep farmland prices where farmers can afford to buy farmland for agriculture. land.”
Speaking on behalf of the Delta Farmers’ Institute, Mike Guichon made a presentation to government that year, suggesting that a buy-back program was needed to preserve farmland.
Much to the chagrin of many, the province enacted the law, virtually freezing thousands of acres in Delta.
Nearly 50 years later, the ALR has been credited with saving Lower Mainland farmland from paving, though urban growth, high land prices, rising costs, urban conflict- rural areas and other pressures continue to pose challenges for land-based agriculture.
The City of Delta is currently undertaking an update to its agricultural plan, aimed at helping the local agricultural community remain viable.