Four of Delta’s six mayoral candidates got to talk farming in a debate hosted by the Delta Farmers’ Institute in Ladner Wednesday evening.
About 100 attended the event at Harris Barn to hear from Sylvia Bishop, Jim Cessford, George Harvie and Moneca Kolvyn in a forum open only to members of the farming community. A common theme that quickly emerged from all candidates is that the city must work directly and closely with farmers to address their issues.
On the issue of Delta’s agricultural plan, approved by Delta council in 2011, Cessford said it’s outdated, requiring input from farmers.
Kolvyn echoed that view, saying, “It needs to be motivated and led by the pioneers, the farmers. I think the whole thing should be scrapped. There’s a lot of things that need to be changed and it needs to be directed by the people who are doing it every day, not by council people.”
Bishop said, “Absolutely, definitely, I’d be willing to meet with the DFI, farming representatives and consult with the farmers on the plan and any issues arising from the plan. It does raise more questions than it answers and there are sections in it that are outdated.”
The need for a processing plant, water rates and improved fresh water supply for Westham Island are big issues raised in the plan still outstanding, she said.
Saying a lot of work has already been carried out as a result of the plan, Harvie noted he’d be in favour of reviews by Delta’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, which could do a “report card” annually.
When asked about what offsets Delta should demand for the loss off farmland, all candidates said more compensation must be a given. Cessford raised the Enviro-Smart issue, saying he doesn’t support composting operations taking up farmland because it sets a dangerous precedent.
He added agricultural impact assessments should be a requirement.
“We need a city agrologist to defend against such encroachments in the future. If we had one, perhaps Enviro-Smart would not be where it is today, on ALR land,” Cessford said.
Asked for their views on the province’s order-in-council which requires the city to get government approval of any bylaw changes in the Agricultural Land Reserve, Harvie said he’s in favour of keeping it in place, describing it as “a safety valve” that ensures future councils don’t impede farming.
Kolvyn said while Delta should have more control over its own future, the city needs to take direction from those working the land.
Bishop said there hasn’t been discussion in the community about the impact of the legislation and she’d want the farmers’ point of view.
Growing marijuana in the ALR also came up with candidates asked what can be done on the issues of odour control as well as employees of one greenhouse operation in East Delta parking along Hornby Drive.
Cessford said the city should address traffic management, but when it comes to the smell and how to mitigate the odour complaints, it could be a difficult one to solve.
Harvie said the greenhouse operations shouldn’t get any breaks and must be made to adhere to the same parking and odour control requirements as the medical marijuana grow operations in Delta’s industrial areas.
Regarding the industrial development planned for the Pineland Peat site, the candidates said farmers should be consulted.
“There’s still a lot of questions and it’s not too late… you have my commitment that if you’ve got a question, we’ve got to sit down and say, ‘Let’s solve this now and we need your input and we need to resolve the questions.’ We need the Delta Farmers’ Institute to say if they’re not happy and tell council so we can ensure steps are being taken. Working together is going to make us stronger,” said Harvie.
Regarding funding for the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust, all candidates said it should be sustained.
A question posed from the audience asked how the candidates would ensure there’s sufficient on-farm living accommodations for farm families and their workers, a growing complaint from farmers.
Cessford said he’d review the farm home plate, suggesting additional buildings should be allowed. Harvie agreed it’s a problem that needs to be solved, while Kolvyn blamed the situation on the city’s bylaws, which she described as archaic and in need of streamlining. Bishop said the city has to be prepared to be more flexible.
Some of the other issues members of the audience raised included four-laning Deltaport Way and improving rural roads.
The municipal election is Oct. 20.