Alta. premier hopes to rebuild relationship with landowners

Alberta premier Jim Prentice made property rights the focus of his first bill in the new sitting of the legislature.

Bill 1, which has passed second reading, would repeal the controversial Land Assembly Project Area Act, otherwise known as Bill 19, which was enacted in 2009, amended in 2011 and never proclaimed.

The legislation would have allowed government to “freeze” property for years, requiring landowners to apply for written permission to make changes. No compensation was promised, although the later amendment would have reinstituted compensation to landowners.

In the Nov. 17 speech from the throne, the Prentice government said Bill 1 would “signal the beginning of government’s commitment to rebuild relationships with property owners in Alberta. Private ownership of land is a fundamental and essential principle of our democracy and our economy.

“This government respects the property rights of Albertans and has heard the strong recommendations provided through the Property Rights Task Force. The introduction of Bill 1 today will begin to foster a culture of respect by acting on what landowners have told us already.”

However, repealing one bill proved underwhelming for the opposition Wildrose Party, which won the bulk of Alberta’s rural seats in the last election largely over property rights concerns.

“You will all recall that Mr. Prentice made property rights a pillar of his leadership campaign and upon becoming premier, he led Albertans to believe it would be a major part of his governing agenda,” said Wildrose leader Danielle Smith in a Nov. 18 news conference.

“With the release of Bill 1 yesterday, which was only seven words long, we know that Mr. Prentice has seriously misjudged what landowners and Albertans were truly looking for from his government.”

Smith and MLA Rod Fox used the news conference to again explain motion 501, which Fox plans to introduce during this legislative session.

It supports an amendment to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that would entrench Alberta property rights.

If the motion passes in the legislature, Lethbridge MP Jim Hillyer has said he will introduce a motion in the House of Commons using Section 43 of the federal Constitution Act.

It allows changes if the amendment applies to one or more provinces, but not all of them, and the legislatures of those provinces support it.

Such an amendment must also be passed in the House of Commons and Senate.

Smith said Prentice and his government should also repeal other bills that affect provincial property rights.

“The fact that premier Prentice has not addressed those bad bills, but also the fact that he didn’t take the opportunity to do what my colleague Rod Fox has done, of initiating a constitutional amendment to enshrine property rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so that we would be able to ensure these kinds of legislation could never be passed again, I think that calls into question his sincerity on the issue,” said Smith.

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