Politicians fume over failure of squatters’ rights bill

A bill that would have eliminated adverse possession, also known as squatters’ rights, in Alberta failed to pass in the form originally in-tended May 15 when voted upon in the provincial legislature.


Bill 204, the Protection of Property Rights Statutes Amendment Act, is a private member’s bill introduced by Wildrose Party MLA Pat Stier. 


Second reading of the bill was not given in the legislature. Instead, an amendment made by NDP MLA Jessica Littlewood passed, which said the bill “does not strike the right balance between individual property owner rights, industry’s need for certainty and the public’s need to protect Alberta’s water and public lands.”


Alberta is one of few provinces with adverse possession still on the books. It allows a person to claim ownership of land if he or she has been in open possession of that land for 10 years or more without having a valid agreement with the landowner.


Loss of the bill as initially presented drew swift public response from the Wildrose Party.


“Landowners have long memories,” said Stier in a news release.


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“They’ve been waiting patiently to see squatters’ rights taken off the books, and the NDP government let them down. This bill would have accomplished many other great things for landowners, including removing barriers to the courts, granting fair hearings and awarding fair and timely compensation. Wildrose will continue to fight for the rights of Alberta landowners, despite this latest setback.”


Speaking in the legislature, Littlewood acknowledged constituents’ desire for substantive changes to protect property rights but said Bill 204 as presented would affect several other property rights issues and could also affect existing acts such as the Law of Property Act, Municipal Government Act and Irrigation Districts Act.


“Eliminating the doctrine of adverse possession is not a straightforward process and needs these careful considerations,” Littlewood said.


“It’s complex and may open gaps and create unintended consequences for Albertans.”


Bill 204 as first introduced also included changes to the Alberta Land Stewardship Act, Energy Resources Conservation Act and several other acts affecting property rights that had generated controversy when Ed Stelmach was premier.


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Wildrose MLA Drew Barnes, who supported the bill as originally introduced, said in the legislature that the NDP was against those acts when in opposition so its rejection of changes now is hypocritical.


Wildrose MLA David Hanson said the issue could galvanize rural landowners just as legislation on farm and ranch worker safety did two years ago.


“We’ve seen how landowners can get motivated, how farmers can get motivated with Bill 6, and I think this is another one of those where you’re going to see a huge backlash from landowners in the province. It extends,” said Hanson, as reported in Hansard.


“You know, this isn’t a centralized issue. This is going to cover the entire province, and I think you’re going to get a huge backlash over this when it becomes public that you’re using this referral amendment to kill this bill rather than take it to committee and fix the issues.” 


In closing debate on the proposed amendment to his bill, Stier said he intends to bring the matter forward again in “some other kind of legislation.”


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Bill 204 was his second attempt to change property rights in the province. He introduced Bill 210 in February but it died on the order paper when the legislative session ended.