Agricultural zones: prove that space is lacking

In reaction to Fran├žois Bourque’s column “The waste of agricultural land” published on May 11
Mr. Bourque, your column of May 11 shows a lack of awareness of governance related to the issues raised and ignores key aspects of the issue.

First, the approval of the Urban Development and Development Plan (SAD) of the Agglomeration of Quebec is the responsibility of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and not the Minister of the Environment and the Fight against climate change, even though he gives his opinion, as do many of his Cabinet colleagues.

In addition, the exclusion of areas in the agricultural zone imposes a burden of proof for the applicant: he must demonstrate the absence of appropriate spaces outside the agricultural zone to meet the stated need. However, a credible demonstration remains to be made about the lack of space in the current urbanization perimeter and the need to enlarge it at the expense of the agricultural zone.

Moreover, the policy choices underlying the DSS have not yet been endorsed by the government, in terms of their compliance with the planning directions that underpin the DSS process.

Finally, it should be noted that the objective of the Law on the Protection of the Territory and Agricultural Activities is “to ensure the sustainability of a territorial base for the practice of agriculture”. It is therefore a question of preserving for future generations a rare and non-renewable resource, agricultural land, whether the land is cultivated or not. Despite the sometimes persistent myth of a “new world” with almost infinite spaces, North America is not a continent with unlimited resources.

In this spirit, an argument related to the availability of wastelands elsewhere in the region can not from the outset convince the Commission for the Protection of Agricultural Land (CPTAQ) to grant an exclusion, even with the prospect of restoring unused. By the way, one may have to wonder how much of the fallow land in the region is in the hands of investors and speculators waiting for a stroke of luck on their behalf.

In addition to the relatively high quality of the land targeted for urbanization, the strategic advantage of locating in the heart of an urban population basin that constitutes an immediate market potential for part of the production should also be considered, while contributing multifunctional agricultural activities to economic, environmental and social-educational objectives for the benefit of the community.

More generally, we can question the coherence of such a management approach in the present context, where many questions are raised on various issues also encompassing agricultural land: floods, wetlands, climate change, structural transport, densification, urban sprawl, etc.

We must think about the choices that will have long-term consequences for the quality of the living environment in urban areas and the food systems of the future. Increasing consumer concerns about food characteristics and quality and awareness of the importance of local agriculture are definitely global trends.

To sound a wake as farmland, as you yourself mentioned in your column from 1 st May, making a parallel with the flood situation, we believe it should not expect the appearance of signs of crisis. They may be imperceptible at the moment, but could appear quickly in a few years. In a column on November 12, 2018, you also qualified the need for space to urbanize and urge caution before considering the rezoning of agricultural land.

Your attitude suddenly more favorable to a rezoning scenario is quite surprising. If you continue your analysis and your reflection on this subject, you could incorporate an important element of sustainable development often forgotten: the precautionary principle.

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