Friday, October 23, 2009


Script for the Frosty Wooldridge radio program of Sept. 30/09:

Frosty this will be a short program so I can’t afford to be too ambitious in covering too many facets of our immigration crisis. So I want to take 10 minutes here to focus on one fundamental assertion, that is, mass immigration threatens our food security.

Now this may come as a shock to some but most of Canada consists of permafrost tundra, mountains, wetlands and boreal forest hostile to human habitation. We have a large land capacity but not a large carrying capacity. Canada is what Mark O’Connor said of Australia, “a big little country”. Yet we have this false body image. To quote myself from O’Connor’s book, “Overloading Australia”, “Australia and Canada are like “two bulimics who look in the mirror and see Twiggy with lots of room to grow.” We see Canada as a big 5-star hotel when we are more like a cheap one-room flophouse. In fact, there is no room at our ecological Inn.

The critical limiting factor for us is that only about 5% of our land base is capable of the sustained production of field crops. And over half of this prime farmland lies in one province, Ontario.

What is alarming is that since the policy of hyper-immigration was implemented in late 1990, the loss of farmland to development in the following five years increased 33% in the Greater Toronto Area or GTA to 10,000 acres a year. And in the province as a whole between 1996 and 2006 the rate of farmland losses to development was 8 times higher than in recent decades previously -- an incredible 60,000 acres every year, according to Stats Canada data cited by Ontario Farmland Trust.

Of course, Green organizations and politicians blame bad planning rather than rampant population growth for urban sprawl. But they ignore American studies which document that population growth drives at least half of that sprawl and believe we can shoe-horn half the global population into the country as long as strict planning controls are in place.

But the problem is, those controls are not yet in place and never likely will be, given the distribution of power in Canadian society. In Canada, land-use planning is in the hands of local governments, and local governments are bought and paid for by developers. That shouldn’t be surprising because, after all, real estate development is the prime fixation of municipal politics and property taxes are the principal source of revenue.

Professor Robert MacDermid of York University recently studied 10 municipalities in the GTA and discovered that incumbents win civic elections 78% of the time and that they acquire 71% of their funding from corporations. One third of those incumbents reported that corporate campaign funds accounted for more than 75% of their war chest.

The problem for challengers is that many of them run against pro-development incumbents.
In Chilliwack, BC, for example growth control advocate Norm Smith faced a developer in his bid for the mayor’s chair and was outspent 10 to 1. Predictably, the fox was elected to guard the hen house. There are but two towns in Canada where a slate of growth-control candidates were able to win control of city council, but lately one of them, in Qualicum Beach, BC, was turfed out by well-financed pro-development candidates.
Just having a comment printed in the local community paper is a challenge for anti-growth activists. Such papers derive perhaps half their advertising revenue from realtors, and there is simply no money in editors printing anti-growth letters or articles that might bite the hand that feeds them. MacDermid’s study was just a case history in story that is universal to North American local jurisdictions. Developers are key constituents in Canada’s Growth Lobby and overpopulation, as Garrett Hardin declared, is like potholes, a local issue.

Given this political fact of life, those who argue that tight zoning laws can make mass immigration ecologically benign are intellectually dishonest. Smart growth doesn’t work.
It didn’t work in Portland, Oregon when rigorous controls could not stop the urbanization of rural land because the city absorbed 146,000 more people in one decade. Urban growth boundaries also failed to hold the fort in 241 other cities in Oregon.

Los Angeles, California, a showcase of smart growth, also could not contain the 3.1 million residents, mostly immigrants, who could not be confined within the prescribed boundaries and sprawled over some 394 acres beyond the line.

Now let’s take a look at North America’s greatest achievement in land-use planning, British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve (the ALR) established in 1973 to protect farmland. Smart growth boosters boast that 30 years later, the ALR retains the same amount of acres in the bank as ever before. But they confuse quantity with quality. Prime farmland secured in the ALR that is close to the city is being traded for new acquisitons in northern lands with soil of poorer quality by an Agricultural Land Commission that has been decentralized to make it more vulnerable to local developer representation. Notwithstanding any flaw in the planning process, without the pressure of population growth, there would be no incentive to profit from farmland.

Still, environmentalists believe that growth can be “managed”. But we don’t manage growth, growth manages us.

They also believe that if we cram everyone into an urban feedlot, we’ll lessen their ecological impact. Wrong again.Consider this:

Vancouver and Toronto have an ecological footprint more than 200 times their size.

The food and energy requirements for dense urban developments and suburban subdivisions are virtually the same.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, highrises square foot for square foot, consume more energy than single family homes. Ever see a clothes line coming out of the 10th storey? Or elevators with cables that were hauled up manually? David Suzuki once remarked that an apartment dweller in Shanghai uses 2 ½ times as more energy than he would have if had stayed in rural China.

Let me quote Brishen Hoff:

“How is it environmentally positive to concentrate people into highrise apartment complexes where it takes massive energy inputs to treat their drinking water and sewage, run their elevators, maintain their multi-storey parking garages, power their artificial indoor fitness club environment and bring food and resources from distances that grow in proportion to their population size, giving them no hope of growing their own food to survive the end of the cheap energy era?”

Here Brishen brings us to the question of what happens to our growing mega cities when fossil fuel becomes too expensive. James Kunstler has said that eventuality will bring our fantasies about immigration to a cruel end, and Canadian author Richard Embleton says that a post-carbon Canada could not likely support cities larger than 20-80,000 people.

Smart growth cannot be an excuse for mass immigration. It is not sustainable and there is no permanent sanctuary for farmland, wetlands or nature reserves in the face of runaway population growth. Brishen can elaborate on that.

Tim Murray

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