Landowners’ Control Over Their Property Is At Stake

Four-and-a-half years into the process of developing and implementing the Land Use Framework (LUF) in Alberta, it is clear that this framework could and likely will create fundamental changes in the way that land-use decisions are made in this province. As one of the largest users of land in Alberta, the agriculture sector faces profound impacts as a result of these changes and these effects will certainly be felt by the cattle industry. Alberta Beef Producers works on behalf of almost 27,000 cattle producers in Alberta to make the industry more competitive and sustainable. Land and water resources are essential for cattle production and our involvement in the LUF is aimed at ensuring producers retain access to these resources.

The cattle producers of Alberta and ABP recognize that growth and prosperity here have created immense challenges. There is fierce competition for land resources in Alberta and the province could not continue with the perceived approach of allowing anybody to do anything anywhere all the time. We also understand that the provincial government is responsible for setting and overseeing land-use policies for Alberta.

So in principle, we accept the need for an LUF and support the development of sound provincial land-use policies. The agriculture sector has been vulnerable to restrictions on land use and loss of land under the current planning process and we see that many parts of the LUF are supposed to protect agricultural land and the agriculture industry.

Bill 36

However, the application of this framework through Bill 36, the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) and the seven regional land-use plans is causing serious concerns for producers. The first publicly released document related to a regional plan, the Vision for the Lower Athabasca Region, included strategies that could lead to further losses of farm-and ranch-land.

ALSA is a powerful piece of enabling legislation that provides direction and leadership in achieving the objectives of the LUF. The purpose of the act is to provide for sustainable development while considering and responding to the cumulative effects of human activity. The LUF is intended to be a provincial growth-management strategy that sustains the economy and balances the social and environmental goals of all Albertans. ALSA has paramountcy which means that it prevails over virtually all other provincial legislation.

The enormous power in ALSA and the authority it gives to the provincial cabinet are serious issues for cattle producers and other landowners in Alberta. All regional plans are approved by the cabinet and become mandatory public policy that is enforced through existing legislation. Through the regional plans, the cabinet can amend or extinguish existing licences, approvals, permits, leases, dispositions, and authorizations. Landowners have no right to compensation and no recourse through the courts if these actions occur. These significant risks to the rights of landowners to use and manage their land are the reason why a growing number of producers are calling for substantive amendments or repealing of ALSA.

Compensation

Beyond the legislation itself, there are other troubling aspects of the LUF for producers. The LUF and the regional planning process do not seem to recognize the priority that should be given to the rights of landowners to use their property and the efficiency of the market in directing land-use decisions. ABP and cattle producers believe that the primary land-use decision maker should be the landowner, subject only to limited controls from provincial, regional, and municipal plans and policies.

The LUF and many features of regional plans could have a significant impact on the use of land, but there does not seem to be adequate provisions for fair and full compensation when regional plans affect land values. It is essential that strategies such as cumulative effects management, the use of conservation and stewardship tools, and the commitment to reducing fragmentation and conversion of agricultural land minimize the negative impacts on the rights of landowners and are offset by adequate compensation.

While cattle producers have heard about the LUF, they have not really understood what this framework will mean for them. As they become more aware of ALSA and the province moves closer to releasing the plans for the Lower Athabasca and South Saskatchewan regions, we are rapidly seeing interest and concern among producers. These producers and ABP know that the implementation of the LUF and the development of regional plans are vitally important to our industry and we will be participating in this process to the fullest extent possible.

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Landownershaveno righttocompensation andnorecoursethrough thecourtsiftheseactions occur.”

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