Bill 36 – Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) Issue: Property Rights

I have heard a lot of discussion and issues raised about Bill 36, the Province’s Land Stewardship Act, and the potential impact that it may have on landowners. I recognize the importance of property rights protection to ensure a free and democratic society. Property should never be taken, or its use restricted, unless there is a clear public good that requires such, and then there should be fair, market-based compensation provided to those whose land is taken or its use restricted, in most cases.

Oh, I know, you are all reading those last few words and may be in shock that I would say such a thing. You all know, however, that compensation isn’t ALWAYS paid when land use is restricted. Zoning restrictions in towns and cities ensure that you cannot build an exotic dance club near a school. We all know why a society would choose to not allow that. If someone owns a lot near a school and decides they want to put up such an establishment, but restrictions say they can’t, do they get compensated? When municipalities put development restrictions on a quarter of land to slow down the growth of acreages, does the municipality use tax dollars to compensate every landowner? In neither case is compensation paid to those individuals for such imposed restrictions. In most cases compensation is paid, but it is not always the case.

Some individuals, and one political party, are suggesting that property rights are, or should be, unrestricted and untouchable, but that is simply not the case in history or present-day reality. For most of the life of this province, and far back in British Common Law, all levels of government have retained the right to manage the use of property, and in rare circumstances such rights were exercised, and still are, without compensation. Thankfully, in Bill 36, there is absolutely nothing that takes away your right to pursue all of the traditional avenues of compensation you were entitled to before the bill was introduced and passed. Nothing in Bill 36 reduces your right to compensation.

Municipalities use zoning rules to restrict property usage in order to help with orderly development and to secure mutual property enjoyment. If you build a house on your lot, and your neighbour builds a bar, his use of his property would likely reduce the use and enjoyment of your property. There have always been points of competing interest that have required balance, and that means there has never been a point of unlimited, and unrestricted, use/enjoyment of personal property. It has been accepted in common law and common practice that the right to enjoy property is restricted when it impacts the collective good, or others’ rights to enjoy their property. Bill 36 takes the concept of municipal land use management and applies it to the regional plans across the Province in order to balance those competing interests—in larger zones—peacefully, and for the success of the Province and its people.

Bill 36 is the largest attempt by anyone, anywhere to set in place a framework and process to determine how we are going to balance competing needs and desires as this province grows and develops in the future. How do we manage our water resources? How do we protect good agricultural land? How and where should industrial developments be, and at what rate should they grow? Where and how should sensitive areas be preserved or managed with developments? How do we balance the environment with everything else? Those are just some of the questions we need to discuss, and we need a place to incorporate those choices into a plan. That is what Bill 36 does.

There will be steps and missteps along the way, as there always are, but we have to start somewhere. There will be many arguments and disputes, but there were disputes over land use and how to manage competing claims before Bill 36. Neighbours complained about the location of hog barns, and who had rights to use water sources, and how many acreages were putting driveways over exceptional agriculture land, and how we would balance protecting sensitive wildlife areas with industrial, commercial, or tourist developments. The arguments happened then, but there was simply no process in place to help us debate our choices and manage our decisions. Bill 36 gives us all a process.

I understand some individuals and one political party are calling for the repeal of the legislation. If we do that, we give up the chance to plan the growth of our province wisely. We give up the chance to ensure we manage our water and environment in a way that is sustainable and balanced with competing interests in industry and agriculture, which also compete with tourism and urban sprawl, which also compete with recreation and ecosystem preservation, which also compete with the rights of property owners, and so on. We give up the chance to show the federal government and the rest of the world that we are progressive in managing the challenges of utilizing resources before we create a crisis. We give up the chance to ensure we don’t pave over the best agriculture land, and destroy rare ecosystems for industry, or destroy industry in the name of the environment. We give up the chance to plan for the way we want Alberta to develop and unfold for generations to come. We give up the opportunity to balance competing land claims on legitimate land use with the legitimate claims of property owners.

However, I do recognize that many people have been just as unhappy with the process of arriving at Bill 36 and its mechanics as they are with its actual content. I don’t blame them at all. Before the solution to a problem is created and implemented, the problem has to be discussed and debated with the public. Before the final legislative solution is proposed, full public discussion needs to ensue again. I have always advocated that, and I have multiple examples to demonstrate my commitment to that type of consultation. We have all-party Field Policy Committees that should have a more active role in the public dialogue. I can’t change what was done, and I am sorry that the public dialogue about the challenges we face wasn’t broader, along with a broader public dialogue about the potential solutions. I would ensure that doesn’t happen again. Going forward, as your Premier, I commit that the issue of property rights, as it relates to Bills 19, 24, and 36 will be sent to the all-party Legislature committee and that we will seek input from ALL stakeholders and the public at large. As well, I commit that full control over the property rights issues related to the bills will be addressed in the Legislature, based on the recommendations of the all-party committee after listening to Albertans on the issue, and power over changes will rest with the Legislative Assembly, not within Cabinet.

I know that I’m not a lawyer and additional improvements can be made to Bill 36 to improve its effectiveness and to ensure appropriate protections for landowners are clear and enforceable. No legislation has ever been perfect. It was, and will continue to be, a work-in-progress that will evolve and improve as we collectively learn more about how we can make wise land management choices. If we repeal Bill 36 in its entirety however, I will have to explain to my sons that we threw out a tool that allowed us to ensure there was something left for them to build on. If we repeal Bill 36, I will have to explain to them that some people thought they should always and unconditionally be allowed to do whatever they want on their property—regardless of consequences to their neighbours or the province as a whole—even though most of those people wouldn’t want their neighbours to be able to do anything they want that could lower the collective value of the land or affect its use.

We need to have a plan going forward to ensure good stewardship so we can continue to market our goods to the world, and to ensure we leave a bright future for the generations to come. So I cannot support repealing these bills. But the legislation, and more importantly the process, has left grave and legitimate concerns with landowners about their futures and their rights, so the bills cannot be left as is. The process I have outlined, which should have been utilized from the beginning, will allow us to move ahead successfully, assured that our rights are protected and that our future can be prosperous for generations to come.