The property rights battle goes on and on… again

Opposition fodder It could, or rather should, have been 
done with a lot more buy-in from the rural landowning public

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Just when you thought it was out of sight and out of mind, the PC government brings back the issue that lost them the rural south, and almost much of the rest of rural Alberta in the last election. Bill 2 — the Responsible Energy Development Act covers energy-industry-related issues, but also includes the consolidation of legislation covering property matters in regards to energy development.

Just the mere thought of “property rights” was guaranteed to set off howls of protest from the opposition Wildrose Party and other government critics. A raucous debate ensued in the legislature with the opposition leader labelling the legislation the “Frankenbill.” Others called it the worst legislation ever forced on innocent landowners in the history of civilization — or words to that effect.

It would seem that the “property rights” issue is the gift that just keeps on giving for the Wildrose Party. And as the giver, the PC government just can’t seem to figure out how to stop giving this gift to their political foes. But then in this case, one suspects that the government may have been thinking more of vengeance rather than benevolence towards those rural voters who had the audacity to vote against them in the last election. Too bad because it could, or rather should, have been done with a lot more buy-in from the rural landowning public. With the election behind them the government certainly has the time to mend fences with landowners on this issue. But I guess that only works if the government actually believes there is a political problem. At this moment in time their approach seems to be full steam ahead and damn the political torpedoes.

From the government perspective Bill 2 tidies up an area that was contained in six previously passed conservation acts. But one wonders as to the awareness of the real world of those drafting the legislation when the government itself made 15 amendments to fix obvious problems and omissions. The government spin was that the legislation was the result of information they gathered from stakeholders. Considering the opposition reaction to the legislation, the government clearly did not address all property rights concerns. But then ruling governments are not prone to listening to their political foes whether they are right or not. The opposition introduced 20 amendments of its own, which were all promptly rejected by the government. One ponders — were all those proposed amendments really wrong, or were they just opposition political mischief? That’s politics I guess.

From a cynical point of view keeping the “property rights” issue alive with another government bill is something of a boon to the Wildrose Party. That issue formed the centrepiece of their last campaign in rural Alberta with much success. The party is now able to keep stoking the embers of discontent in readiness for the next election. I expect they will have plenty of fuel for more political bonfires as bureaucrats roll out the detailed regulations needed to enforce the legislation. Considering past track records, new bone-headed regulations are sure to cause both outrage and court cases. I expect Wildrose strategists will be salivating at the prospect of receiving even more such political gifts from the government.

Just to add to their political generosity, the PC government also intends to repeat history, believing that if only misguided landowners were informed of the facts they would all happily rally behind the legislation. The previous energy minister, Ted Morton, fervently believed in that mantra, but then he lost his seat in the last election. I think there was a message there.

Present Energy Minister Ken Hughes has vowed that he will engage in a province-wide speaking tour to inform misled land owners of the wisdom of his legislation. No doubt the minister’s political handlers will probably be seeking out friendly audiences to create a positive PR response to the legislation. Nothing new there, the legislation’s opponents will be doing exactly the same thing for their side, and on it goes.

One does wish that there could be some better credible public consultation mechanism to create what everyone agrees is much needed legislation to protect landowner rights. The reality is that the courts will probably be the final arbiter of the fairness of all of the property rights legislation. As usual lawyers will have the last laugh.

All of this causes one to ponder if there is a jurisdiction somewhere in the world where all sides, stakeholders and landowners are generally happy with legislation that governs their property rights. Every area has unique circumstances, but surely Alberta is not the first jurisdiction that has had to deal with this issue. Perhaps we should have tried harder to learn from others before starting on what has turned out to be a most acrimonious and endless journey. But then I guess it’s easier to repeat history.

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