The government plans to amend and repeal parts of the Land Stewardship Act in response to mistakes in the act, said Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mel Knight to an audience of around 120 at the Beaver River Fish and Game building last Wednesday.
Ten amendments would be made to clarify the intent of the act, which since passing in 2009 has sparked concerns about the protection of property rights in Alberta.
"It became very apparent to all of us, and most especially to me, that many of you were not happy. As a matter of fact, that would be putting it extremely moderately," he said in his opening remarks.
The intent of the act was not to strip people of personal rights, he said.
The premier asked Knight to review the legislation in January, leading to the 10 proposed amendments the minister shared with the Beaver River audience. The amendments will go back to the house for debate in spring.
"We have removed ... all of the pieces of this legislation that have been contentious," he said.
One amendment would clarify the statutory consent clause, which was singled out by land rights lawyer Keith Wilson as giving the government the right to extinguish a land title at his presentation in Ardmore last month.
The amendment would add a provision that says the statutory consent reference shall not be interpreted as including, "A certificate, licence, registration, approval, authorization, agreement, or instrument concerning vital statistics, or the registration of valid and subsisting property interests including title to land and freehold mines and minerals," Knight said.
"End of story. That argument is gone."
The revised act would also strike the word "extinguish" and substitute the word "rescind" from section 11. The change would allow government to "rescind statutory consent" for a plan on a "go forward basis."
"It's no different than it is today," Knight said.
The right to rescind licences is necessary for conservation and the public interest in some cases, he said.
Knight also plans to repeal the section that says a regional plan can make laws that bind a municipality.
"Regional plans are not intended to overtake municipal councils and the decisions that they make. This will be repealed, period. Gone, not in there anymore," said Knight.
The government also plans to clarify which parts of the act are only statements of policy and not law. "So municipalities can I think hang their hat on the fact that we're not going in there and interrupting their business," he said.
Knight also addressed claims the act can deny a person's right to compensation or right to appeal. The Crown would become liable for any compensation payable as a result of a regional plan if it has a direct and adverse effect on the value of an applicant's land, Knight said.
"We're not taking away any of your opportunity to get compensation from any legislation that's in place today," he said.
Another amendment would allow a person adversely affected by a plan to appeal to a tribunal.
In a phone interview with the Nouvelle, Wilson said while some of the amendments could improve the act, it is still a flawed piece of legislation, "designed not to compensate." The act has "systemic problems," which create unrestricted power centralized in cabinet similar to the Soviet Union system, he said.
The amendments demonstrate the government's lack of understanding of existing legislation, he said.
After 25 minutes of remarks, Knight answered questions from the audience for the next hour and 20 minutes.
Iron River farmer Gordon Graves thanked the Progressive Conservatives for, "Finally listening to landowners and our concerns," but added, "there are still some things that have to be addressed."
Although the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) aims to increase conservation areas, it says nothing about food producing, Graves said, adding the right to produce food must be entrenched in the legislation.
There already is legislation protecting the production of food, Knight replied, adding there's still, "One more kick at the cat" for changes to the LARP. Plans can also be changed after approval, he said.
"If it's not good, it's easy to change them. They're not set in stone," said Knight.
He added he "can't live with" the amount of land currently proposed for conservation areas because it is more than the province could afford to set aside.
Attendees also raised questions about the expansion of the Lakeland Provincial Park and Recreation Area. The LARP draft proposes expanding the current boundaries, which could make it off limits to traditional users.
One man criticized the "civil servants with guns" sent to patrol the Lakeland Park when it opened in the 1990s, which he said were sent to intimidate traditional users. Reading from a prepared statement, he said he is concerned about trappers having their lines taken away.
Knight encouraged the speaker to wait and see the next draft of the plan in spring. He said the draft plan would not be the same in the next draft.
"What was the thinking of the government when they created such a monstrosity?" asked Harold Ross, area resident.
"I apologize to you for the mistakes that are in there relative to your property rights," responded Knight. Investors in Europe and the United States are not happy with what Alberta is doing, he said, saying they are concerned 17 animal species are considered at risk or threatened.
"We had to do something to put together a proper regional plan, an umbrella that would work with municipalities in order to plan for land use going forward."
"The amendments you've put forward are noble, but ... that thing is flawed and it needs to be repealed," said Neil McRury, which was followed by applause. He also asked the minister to reduce the amount of conservation area.
He also criticized government ownership of the voids underground, which can be used for carbon sequestering. He said he found people being allowed to pump materials under his property, "fundamentally offensive."
"It certainly sounds to me like there's a lot of people here that would like to see all this legislation repealed," admitted Knight.
Several audience members pointed out the Beaver River flows into Saskatchewan, not north to the Athabasca, something that hampered the consultation process by not identifying it as a local issue. The RAC would do more to get local communities involved next time, Knight said.
Knight denied that Keith Wilson's paper to the Legal Education Society on the Land Stewardship Act had anything to do with the proposed amendments, in a media scrum after the meeting. Rather, advice from Albertans prompted the minister to make changes, he said.
"Whatever campaigning is going on politically relative to ramp up to the next election, I don't focus on that. I don't even think about it."
Throwing the act out and starting over again wouldn't work, he said.
The minister also defended the make-up of the RAC, which did not include a representative from the MD of Bonnyville, saying that the committee included representatives from many groups. However, the RAC could be changed, he said.
"We'll take a look at how the Regional Advisory Committees are set up in the first place, perhaps how many people should be there, and look at the communication, advertising, the notification process, all those types of things that we've heard about."
He said he found it "amazing" people here did not know about the consultations.