In an effort to connect City Council with constituents to discuss the Food & Agriculture Strategy, the Greater Edmonton Alliance (GEA) organized two ward meetings in advance of the public hearing on October 26. The first took place on Tuesday at the Robertson Wesley United Church, and while the councillors for wards 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 were invited, only Councillor Henderson attended. GEA officials told us that Councillor Krushell had responded and that she was unable to attend, and that Councillor Loken had responded and wanted to meet privately with GEA (he confirmed to me he is waiting for GEA to confirm a meeting, GEA has told me they want a public meeting, not a private one).
The meeting was scheduled to last one hour, and GEA officials did a good job of sticking to that schedule. Unfortunately most of the hour was spent bringing everyone up-to-speed on the issue, and on GEA’s efforts thus far. We heard from Elizabeth Smythe from GEA’s Local Food Team, Debbie Hubbard, who served as GEA’s representative on the Food & Ag Strategy Advisory Committee, and Monique Nutter, Co-Chair of GEA’s Local Food Team. Monique concluded her remarks with a call-to-action for citizens and a request that Councillor Henderson respond by October 22:
Unfortunately, pressures are mounting to push decisions on this land forward quickly in a way that denies the time to explore options and, more concerning, marginalizes the voices of citizens.
We are here tonight to ask our City Councillors to work with us to ensure the Citywide Food and Agriculture Strategy provides the necessary information to enable good decisions.
Finally, we got to hear from Councillor Henderson. “I’m not the one that needs to be convinced,” he started, gesturing to the empty chairs that had been set aside for his colleagues on Council. He received a loud ovation for his attendance from the crowd.
Asked whether he felt the strategy sufficiently answered questions about what to do with the land in the northeast, Councillor Henderson responded: “I absolutely do not have enough information yet.”
In his remarks, Councillor Henderson noted that whatever support might have existed for preserving the land in the northeast back when the MDP was passed now appears to be gone. What happened? The answer might be found in a blog post by former GEA organizer Michael Walters:
The campaign to “preserve farmland” in northeast Edmonton was never an either-or endeavor. It was never about opposing development. It was about making something amazing in Northeast Edmonton.
In short, he feels the conversation has shifted from wondering where our food will come from in the future to a debate over sprawl and farmland. A debate he feels is unwinnable.
It was a strategic decision to tie the creation of the Food & Agriculture Strategy to the development of the three Urban Growth Areas. Whether that was the right strategy or not remains to be seen, but at the moment things feel far more uncertain than they did three years ago. There are some good things in the strategy and it would be a shame to see them held up or abandoned because of the land use issue in the northeast. At the same time, what other leverage do proponents of preserving the land have? The Growth Coordination Strategy has already been made much less comprehensive, and the Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan has already been approved as a “framework”, rather than as a plan of Council as originally identified.
“What happens if we delay the entire strategy?” Councillor Henderson wondered aloud at the meeting. “I’m uncertain about what happens next.”
Councillor Henderson also reminded everyone in attendance that this is a regional land issue. “The essence of this is the fixation in this province with the primacy of property rights,” he said. Michael Walters notes the responsibility to deal with the issue has been floating back and forth for years:
The Capital Region Board has shown little courage in facing this question and in fact handed back the responsibility for addressing protection of farmland to the province in 2010. So for the City of Edmonton to pass this decision to the regional board cements an existing culture of timidity in dealing with this issue.
This is despite clear input to the Capital Region Board on the issue of preserving agricultural land:
In the quantitative survey, a significant majority (60 percent) of residents said agricultural lands should be preserved and protected. This support was consistent across the region.
How can we address the ongoing lack of action? How can we get City Council to pay attention? Liane Faulder says a “noisy, loud, foot-stomping and engaged” food movement is needed:
City council may well get away with doing precisely nothing of any substance to deal with the issue of urban agriculture because nobody is going to make them. There’s not a single council member who has shown any real interest in the urban food debate.
In other words, if you care about this issue, you need to get involved now!
The next meeting takes place on Thursday evening at 7pm at St. Theresa’s Parish (7508 29 Avenue). Councillors Sloan and Diotte have apparently confirmed their attendance, and the councillors for wards 5, 9, 10, and 12 have been invited.
Don’t forget the non-statutory public hearing on the Food & Agriculture Strategy takes place on Friday, October 26. If you want to speak at the hearing, fill out this form.