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Landowner rights still a hot-button issue despite changes

While pleased with some of the changes the province has proposed to the Alberta Land Stewardship Act, a St. Albert lawyer said there are still problems with the controversial piece of legislation.

While pleased with some of the changes the province has proposed to the Alberta Land Stewardship Act, a St. Albert lawyer said there are still problems with the controversial piece of legislation.

“They have not addressed the core problems,” Keith Wilson said Wednesday.

The bill, he said, extinguishes property rights and gives cabinet “unfettered” powers.

In addition to clarifying the original intent of the legislation — to plan for the future needs of Albertans and manage growth — the amendments include allowing anyone directly affected by a regional plan to request a review.

The amendments also address compensation for landowners affected by regional planning and allow land titleholders to request a variance to such plans.

“One of the things that is paramount, and will now be right in the front end of the legislation is respect to the rights to property, the rights to compensation for Albertans, and certainly the right to have review of the regional plans,” Sustainable Resources Development Minister Mel Knight said at a press conference this week.

Knight said he was asked by Premier Ed Stelmach to review the act, which was first introduced in 2009. Vague wording over landowner rights has come under heavy fire from opposition parties, particularly the Wildrose Alliance, which has used the issue as a wedge for the PC party’s support base in rural Alberta.

“The proposed amendments only strengthen our commitment to those rights and to consult with Albertans and develop regional plans under the Land-use Framework through a transparent and accountable process,” Knight said.

Also included in the amendments is a clarification that land titles and freehold mineral titles were never included in the definition of statutory consents.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Wilson noted.

Under the new rules, mandatory public consultation is required during the drafting of regional plans, and draft plans must be tabled in the legislature before being approved.

Wilson said he has concerns with some of the amendments, specifically a compensation provision that reads: “Nothing in this act, a regulation under this act or a regional plan is to be interpreted as limiting, reducing, restricting or otherwise affecting the compensation payable or rights to a compensation provided for under any other enactment or in law or equity.”

Wilson said this is just another way of pointing out current legislation doesn’t infringe upon landowner rights.

“The problem is this legislation doesn’t give you any rights and it gives new powers to take things away from you,” he said. “It’s a nothing statement. They could have replaced it with ‘blank’ and it would have the same effect.”

The amendments also clarify that a regional plan cannot change or rescind a development permit or approval granted or made by a municipality if the development is completed or under way.

According to the province, the amendments will establish a process to determine compensation for landowners who believe it is warranted, in case where a landowner’s property interest has been taken away and there is a right to compensation under the law.

But Wilson said the amendments mean landowners will be compensated only if the courts have recognized a legal entitlement to compensation.

“That’s crazy because there are probably two-thirds of the cases where the courts have said no compensation is payable in a certain set of facts and there’s one third that said they have,” he said.

“This doesn’t clarify the law, it makes it more confusing on that point.”

Wilson said Bill 36 replaces pre-existing laws that, in the past, have put limits on when government could rescind licences.

“The pre-existing law has been that there has been limits on when the government could simply take this stuff away from you,” he said.

“I found no other statute or no other province in Canada that’s done this, that bars citizens and right holders from going to court if they feel that the government has wrongly taken their rights away from them … or wrongly taken away their water licence.”

Colleen Boddez, a Stugeon County landowner, with the Sturgeon Blueline Group and Landowners Against Bills 19, 36 and 50, said she is not satisfied with the amendments.

“They are still not enough,” Boddez said Friday.

“The legislation still has major problems with it.”

While he said he’s pleased with the “small steps” taken by the province to address landowner concerns, Wilson said the amendments do not address the core problems with the legislation.

“They really relate to concentration of power in the hands of cabinet, removal of traditional rights and protection of citizens.”