Property rights dispute takes a short break in Alberta

Amid the current focus on provincial red ink, one issue has slipped off the public radar screen in Alberta: property rights.

Mark Milke

TROY MEDIA

Amid the current focus on provincial red ink, one issue has slipped off the public radar screen in Alberta: property rights.

The lack of attention is understandable given the nearness of the provincial budget and the province’s poor finances.

But until recently, property rights, and more broadly land-use issues (which involve regulation of both private and leased land), were a continual, high-profile source of conflict in Alberta.

For example, in 2009 and 2010, the province introduced a series of four bills – 19, 24, 36 and 50 – to which Keith Wilson, the lawyer for one property rights organization, asserted that the bills would a) concentrate power in the hands of the provincial cabinet, b) limit rights to compensation, c) seek to remove the role of the courts, and d) diminish adherence to the rule of law in Alberta.

Back in 2012 the province introduced Bill 2: The Responsible Development Act which drew fire from Russell Brown (the University of Alberta law professor, later appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench).

Brown found that Bill 2 denied landowners the right to be notified about proposed energy development on their land.

One reason for less focus on property rights might simply be recent actions by the province. Last November in its throne speech, the provincial government mentioned property rights as a priority.

It then introduced (and subsequently passed and gave royal assent to) Bill 1, The Respecting Property Rights Act. That bill repealed the earlier, controversial Land Assembly Project Area Act, enacted by the provincial legislature in 2009, modified in 2011, but never proclaimed.

Still, once budget matters fade from the news, population growth, oil and gas exploration, agricultural demands, recreational use, and an increasing ecological sensitivity will likely again swirl around land use issues – private property included. A useful debate will then arise about who is best positioned to provide informed analysis about Alberta’s land base, be it farmland near a river or ranch land near a wildlife habitat.

Thinking ahead then, the debate matters because some property-based conflicts over the past decade involved disputes between conservationists, ranchers and farmers and the government (whether on private land or land leased from government).

In some of those tussles, it was occasionally assumed that an environmentally-sensitive approach is opposite to a commercial approach – that ecological protection is necessarily at odds with ranching and farming. There is always potential for conflict, but as professor Ken Atkinson wrote in a 2009 British Journal of Canadian Studies article on preserving grassland in southern Saskatchewan, “The prairies provide an example of how tensions between conservationists and other land-users can be healed and need not be permanent.”

Atkinson pointed out that while some conservationists accuse ranchers of overgrazing and using exotic grasses to reseed pastures (accurate in some cases), “Ranchers regard themselves as custodians of the land and ‘conservers’ (and point out that) their open range give native flora and fauna some chance of survival.” And he points to evidence where “cattle grazing has (had) a beneficial role in managing prairie grassland.”

Atkinson is cheerily optimistic for the potential of greater cooperation here, noting that, “Fortunately, understanding between ranchers and conservationists has improved enormously.”

Atkinson thus hints at what some people might forget: Those closest to the land often have the best chance of managing it properly. Heightened understanding about how local knowledge can assist conservation efforts may help calm those unhelpful “us-versus-them” disputes. And we shouldn’t be surprised.

People tend to care for their own property (or even their leased property) in a more careful manner than land in which they have no stake.

Therefore, any discussion about land use in Alberta should keep this principle in mind: Those closest to the land are likely to have the most immediate, most accurate knowledge about such property. When these issues come back to the public policy table, any evidence-based discussions should always start there.

Mark Milke is a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute and author of a 2011 book on property rights. His column is distributed through Troy Media.

 

Just Posted

Lacombe Generals march back into the win column against Rosetown

Generals end three game losing streak with 4-1, 6-5 wins over Red Wings

UPDATE: Lacombe, Red Deer snubbed from new ambulance list

Lacombe Councillor Chris Ross continues to advocate for added care in Central Alberta

WATCH: CP Holiday Train rolls into Lacombe

Kelly Prescott performed for hundreds of Central Albertans

Central Alberta Woodworkers showcase craft at Lacombe Memorial Centre

Guild is the latest to showcase their work at the LMC’s art exhibit

Man wearing bandanna with knife robs Lacombe Circle K

5’3” white male stole cash, cigarettes early on Dec. 4th

VIDEO: Light Up the Night Santa Klaus Parade brings festive joy to Lacombe

The Tim Horton’s Santa Klaus Parade in Lacombe brought thousands to the streets

Liberal Party moves Trudeau fundraiser from military base

The fundraiser is scheduled for Dec. 19, with tickets costing up to $400

Federal government plans examination of coerced sterilization

The Liberals have been pressed for a rapid response to recent reports on the sterilizations

Huitema, Cornelius named 2018 Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

Huitema was captain of Canada’s fourth-place team at this year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup

Canada not slowing emissions from oil and gas: environmental groups

New report released at the United Nations climate talks in Poland

Goodale to ‘examine’ transfer of Rafferty to medium-security prison

Michael Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 in the kidnapping, sexual assault and first-degree murder of Tori Stafford

Minister appoints former CIRB chair to resolve Canada Post labour dispute

Postal workers engaged in weeks of rotating walkouts

Alberta Finance Minister says equalization program not working

Equalization formula fails Alberta again, says UCP

Omar Khadr to ask for Canadian passport to travel, permission to speak to sister

He spent years in U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay after he was caught when he was 15

Most Read