Property Rights Growing Into Political Headache

It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure it out, but there is a rapidly growing issue in the countryside that could have big political ramifications. It’s an issue that could possibly knock the present PC government on its collective butt in rural ridings in the next election. It all has to do with that most visceral of issues to those who make their living off the land, that being land ownership. It’s considered a God-given right and anyone (particularly governments) trying to mess with it will be paying a severe political price.

Considering that non-urban ridings form a lopsided majority within the present PC government, one might assume that this government would be particularly attuned to this rising political elephant in the room. If it is, its legislative actions seem to show an appalling lack of sensitivity to what folks on farms and ranches want to believe about their land-ownership rights.

The issue goes back almost 10 years and seemingly had good intentions. But as the saying goes, “The road to hell is always paved with good intentions.” Like governments everywhere, politicians and bureaucrats like to plan things and Alberta lacked the one big plan, that being overall land use and the policies surrounding its development. As expected governments prefer the planning to be from the top down. That way, those on the bottom can benefit from all that wisdom at the top. Just in case any citizens didn’t understand their role in this process, the Alberta government passed legislation that gives it overall power to squash any discontent. Citizens would have to accept the process and legislation, and not even the courts could help them.

That saw the provincial government pass the now-infamous land use control legislative troika of Bills 19, 36 and 50. Government apologists insisted that they were but minor pieces of legislation that were designed to merely assist the land use planning process. The message was, “Don’t worry, trust us.” Nowadays whenever citizens hear those words from government politicians and bureaucrats they immediately, and rightfully, suspect the worst.

What became clear was that the provincial government had quietly instituted some of the most draconian land-and resource-control measures in the country, and to drive it home the humble landowner had absolutely no recourse of appeal, not even to the courts, as the minister of the day and cabinet are given the final say – period.

To placate those that might notice this assault on property rights, the government set up the Land Use Framework (LUF) process. It’s a planning exercise where in seven regional zones in the province, selected citizens, groups, bureaucrats etc. would sit down and create a regional land use and development plan which would provide the blueprint for each area’s future. Considering the disparate folks involved in the process, energy, forestry, recreational, environmental, etc., agriculture folks quickly realized that it would, in many cases, be their land and its future at stake and decided upon by outsiders and bureaucrats.

The agriculture industry has since mobilized in an attempt to gain some influence on the LUF planning process. But it’s now gone far beyond that; various organizations and ad hoc land owner groups have been running an ongoing series of town hall meetings across the province in an effort to expose the evil intentions of the government’s land use legislation.

Smelling a possible sleeper election issue, the opposition Wildrose Alliance party has now embraced property rights as its central policy plank in the countryside. They even proclaim that they will revoke the infamous troika of land-use bills. From a recent poll, one could presume that this issue has helped propel the Wildrose Alliance three percentage points ahead of the present PC government in popularity in rural Alberta. Theoretically that should awaken even the most oblivious government MLA.

Rumour has it that the premier will soon be sending his cabinet ministers out for a tour of the province to ascertain what all the discontent is about (LUF is just one of many political problems on their plate). If their past history is any indication they may have problems with listening. But then the PC party has a long history of diverting issues and then winning elections.

This long-entrenched government may well dismiss the property rights issue as a minor irritant that will be quickly forgotten and any wayward voters will come to their senses and dutifully return to the PC fold at re-election time. However, I am not so sure this time; past history has shown that threats to a person’s land have a habit of turning even the most conservative into rebels. History also shows that political revolutions can occur, even in Alberta.

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Themessagewas, Don’tworry,trustus.”

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