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This land titles system is our land titles system

By: Ken Allred

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 18, 2013 06:00 am

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Back in the 1990s when then-Premier Klein coined the phrase, The Alberta Advantage, I thought of Alberta’s advantage as having the best system of land registration, the most orderly land survey system and the most comprehensive system of town and regional planning. These three basic services created a very efficient and guaranteed system of property rights and the basis for a simple, orderly system of land management that is used by virtually all public and private authorities.

Since then we have seen our land-use planning regime go down the tube when the regional planning commissions were dissolved and now the underpinning of our property rights are being threatened by the former minister of Service Alberta, who has proposed that the government go to the marketplace and see how much the corporate world is prepared to bid for our land titles offices and land registration system. This, despite the fact that the Alberta land titles system has experienced significant reforms going from the former hand-written bound volumes of books to a fully computerized system with remote access.

The Alberta land registration system is recognized as one of the most modern and efficient systems in the world and has never been a draw on our financial resources but rather has been a net contributor to our general revenue over the years.

Apparently the reason that the government of Alberta is considering privatization of the land titles system is because of the apparent fiscal crunch we are in. This being the case, I would respectfully suggest that privatization of one of our basic institutions that stands out as a stalwart for the protection of private property rights is not the place to look.

This appears to be following the lead of the governments of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. These, I understand, have engaged Teranet – the firm that took over the land titles and land registry systems in Ontario a few decades ago.

I have no philosophical bent against privatization. In fact, I generally favour privatization over government delivery. There are however some services that are so basic that we need to ensure that their security remains certain. Such is the case with the registration of legal interest in land – a system that has functioned without flaw in Alberta since 1886.

The land titles system in Alberta is modeled on the Torrens system – a system of land registration that was adopted in South Australia in the 1850s. The system is based on three principles: the mirror principle, the curtain principle and the assurance principle. Basically, the current certificate of title to a parcel of real property reflects (mirrors) the true ownership of the land, and a person does not have to do a historical search (go behind the curtain) to determine if there are any defects in ownership. And lastly, the government guarantees (assures) that the title is true and correct. If anyone is harmed by an incorrect title, their property is restored, or if someone suffers damages, they are compensated.

It is truly a protector of the property rights of all landowners and gives confidence to everyone who has reason to deal with land. Combined with an accurate system of parcel and boundary surveys, the land titles system also establishes the basic framework for virtually all private and public land management and land information systems in the province.

Ken Allred is a former St. Albert alderman and MLA.


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