“If it hadn’t been for the support of all the individuals that came forward, this wouldn’t have happened”
After a sparring contest that spanned two years, Ray Strom is pretty content. He and his legal counsel were prepared to take their case to the Supreme Court of Canada, but he says logic prevailed.
The issue began in 2007 when Strom was charged under Alberta’s Surface Rights Act that says land advisers have to be licensed under the Land Agents Licensing Act. Strom was not licensed. He was found guilty in provincial court in Vegreville in March 2007.
Strom refused to accept the verdict. He subsequently lost an appeal in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. That ruling kick-started a process that would play out over the next two years, resulting in a standoff that motivated Strom to mount an appeal to the federal courts.
Many landowners say Strom’s battle was instrumental in the provincial government’s recent changes to Bill 9, the Land Agents Licensing Amendment Act. It introduced a revision that will make it easier for landowners to hire anyone to represent them in land use negotiations with energy companies.
Len Mitzel, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, introduced the bill in the legislature last year.
“My southern Alberta constituents have told me the Land Agents Licensing Act, in its present form, is too restrictive. They want less red tape and they want choice – that’s what this amendment is about,” said Mitzel.
Still, says Strom, “we had to push this right to the bitter end.” He was set to take his case to the federal appeals court late last year. Strom said that since he had assurances that his charge would only be regulatory, and coupled with the fact that “technically the law has been corrected,” he decided to abandon the appeal. “It was time to move on,” he says, adding that he believes he had to take it as far as he did to force the province’s hand.
Alberta Surface Rights Federation president Don Bester says the province should rescind the regulatory charge against Strom. “He was right in what he was doing. A landowner should have the right to hire whoever he wants.”
After all, said Bester, the oil company hires whoever it wants, and the landowner doesn’t have a say in that. “It took someone with Ray Strom’s stamina to take this on,” he said.
Strom still has reservations about Bill 9. “But we have enough on record as to what the Bill was supposed to accomplish, I don’t think they’d try it again,” he says. “If we didn’t have the Legislature Hansard (record of debate), the media coverage and the NDP onside, it would be a dangerous bill.”
Strom says many landowners have taken the Hansard and stuck it in their own files. “There is just no trust there anymore.”
He says the government didn’t make it right because they wanted to. “They did it because they had to, they were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
It’s the grassroots flavour of what Strom calls a victory for all landowners that makes it that much sweeter.
“If it hadn’t been for the support of all the individuals that came forward, this wouldn’t have happened,” he says. “They were there when the associations that are supposed to represent them weren’t.”
What will changes to Bill 9 mean, other than Strom getting back to business as usual?
“The business side of it will find its own way, but it’s critical our rights as landowners are maintained and the government doesn’t take away our civil liberties to do it,” he says.
Strom says he hopes his experience goes at least a little way toward stifling some of the negativity that pervades in the public. “This idea that ‘I’m only one person, I can’t do anything’ is just wrong,” he says. “We’re living in an age where one person can now do more than they ever could.”