The Alberta government’s proposed Land Use Framework (LUF) is raising red flags for some farm groups.
The LUF outlines a series of steps the government will take to plan the future land use and development needs of the entire province. The intent is to balance social, environmental and economic priorities in order to best address Alberta’s complex land use needs over the long term.
“There is certainly concern,” says Greg Bowie, an Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) director and chairman of ABP’s Land Use Framework subcommittee. “We realize that a larger plan is probably necessary, but we have concerns over the power given to cabinet, and concerns about the process of how the plans are coming out.”
Of primary concern to landowners is the wording of Bill 36, the Land Stewardship Act that governs the LUF framework. Some say it appears to give significant power to cabinet at the expense of landowners and citizens, and leaves open no avenue for appeal once a Cabinet decision is made.
“We strongly believe that the landowner should be one of the primary decision makers on his own land. Bill 36, depending on how it is interpreted, takes away that power from the landowner and gives it entirely to Cabinet,” says Bowie.
In order to complete the LUF planning process, the province has been divided into seven regions. Each will undergo a detailed regional planning phase conducted by a committee made up of government, non-governmental, industry and aboriginal representatives.
The Lower Athabasca regional committee brought its report forward for public consultation and is now working through stakeholder feedback. Another regional committee is currently working on the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan. The other five regions have not yet begun work.
Some producers say that agriculture does not have a significant enough voice on the two regional committees convened to date.
“We believe we should have people on the committees who represent and are accountable to agriculture,” says Wild Rose Agricultural Producers President, Humphrey Banack. “Until we are represented, we have to wait for reports to be drafted before we can provide feedback. But, it is very much harder to make changes and to influence effective policy when you’re not sitting at the planning table.”
Bowie agrees, and says that the first regional plan released doesn’t recognize the importance of agriculture. Though he acknowledges that there is not a lot of agricultural land in the Lower Athabasca region, he points out that the potential for agricultural land to expand in that region is bigger than elsewhere in the province. Yet cropland was downplayed as a priority in the plan’s vision statement. Alternative “primary uses” such as forestry were highlighted for agricultural land; and conservation and recreational lands were prioritized but excluded the possibility of shared uses such as grazing and timber production.
“Through the whole thing, there doesn’t appear to be a priority on the sustainability of the agriculture sector,” says Bowie. “For any of the forestry, conservation or recreational land to expand the way the plan outlines, the only place they can expand into is agricultural land.”
Bowie worries that could set a precedent, even in areas with more intensive agricultural use. “We are concerned that, once one plan is accepted, it would be very difficult for another plan to be at exactly the opposite end in terms of recommendations.”
Another major concern for agricultural landowners is the potential that their land will be devalued through this process. If a regional plan says, for example, that subdivisions will no longer be allowed in a particular area, producers feel that the landowner should receive fair and full government compensation given that a government decision has decreased the value of the land.
“Just having a plan that says ‘sorry guys, we’re not going to allow that use anymore and now your land is only worth 60 per cent of what it was’ is not reasonable,” says Bowie.
The ABP’s LUF subcommittee submitted a letter to the government outlining concerns during the consultation phase for the Lower Athabasca regional plan.
“We had the opportunity to provide input, but we have no way of ensuring that our input is going to be looked at in a serious manner,” Bowie says. “We won’t know until we see the next version of the Lower Athabasca plan. If a lot of our concerns have been addressed, we’ll have a lot more confidence in the process and the final plans.”
Banack strongly recommends producers get informed and involved in LUF discussions.
“One of our biggest projects is to make sure producers understand how this is going to affect us in the future. A lot of the policies being developed won’t affect us for two to three years. By the time we can put a finger on the damages that are happening, it will be very hard to turn them around.”
“Werealizethata largerplanisprobably necessary,butwehave concernsoverthepower giventocabinet,and concernsaboutthe processofhowtheplans arecomingout.
GREG BOWIE ABP