Alta. gov’t hears residents’ concerns over land use acts

Inadequate compensation to landowners frequently raised at hearings

Ninety-two people had their say Jan. 17 about Alberta’s controversial land use acts.

Ten Progressive Conservative government MLAs and the leader of the NDP opposition listened.

The Lethbridge meeting was the last of 10 held across the province at the behest of premier Alison Redford, who made a leadership campaign promise to get input on acts passed by the Ed Stelmach government that raised concerns about protection of property rights.

To do that, she appointed a task force chaired by environment and water minister Diana McQueen, with agriculture minister Evan Berger as vice-chair.

The task force is focusing on the Land Assembly Project Area Act, the Alberta Land Stewardship Act, the Carbon Capture and Sequestration Act and the Electric Statutes Amendment Act.

A common recommendation at the Lethbridge meeting and others in the province was for the government to repeal the acts and start over, this time with adequate consultation.

“Mainly the general themes we’ve been hearing across the province have to do with consultation, people wanting to make sure there’s good consultation up front and throughout the process whenever there’s any legislative or policy changes,” McQueen said before the meeting.

The task force will present a report to Redford Jan. 31.

“It’s really important that we have it done in a timely fashion,” McQueen said.

Provincial NDP leader Brian Mason said there’s a good reason for the meetings and the timeline.

“The objective here is obviously not to get the bills right. It’s to fix them so they don’t lose the election,” he said.

“Maybe the government will fix them, but it’s only the threat of losing seats in the election that has persuaded them to listen, and that’s not a good sign from a government. It should listen first, then act.”

Berger, who spent the fall and winter of 2011 defending the acts in the face of widespread concern from landowners about erosion of property rights, said as agriculture minister he is listening again to those concerns.

“It’s a great listening experience because you get an idea what the understanding is for some folks,” he said. “It all comes back to the consultation, compensation and access to the courts.”

Concerns frequently raised at the meeting included inadequate compensation for landowners whose land is used for power lines, pipelines and roads.

Many said the government hadn’t adequately consulted citizens before passing the acts.

Some requested a better definition of property rights and others complained about lack of recourse in the courts when disputes about compensation arose.

MLAs listened without comment as criticisms rained down on the acts, which McQueen said was a unique method of gathering input.

“This evening really is about us not debating legislation with you, it’s not about us clarifying,” she said. “It’s about us being able to listen to what you have to say.”

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