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Jan 19, 2011
Accountabililty And Stewardship In Alberta’s Land Stewardship Act And Land Use Framework
The April 2002 report entitled “Towards the Development of a Provincial Land Use Strategy” summarized Alberta’s land-use issues. Those included:
This report recommended “….that the Province of Alberta adopt a more rigorous approach to protecting agricultural lands by developing a province-wide framework of land use policies that are enforceable and based upon input from Albertans. Protection of agricultural land and hence the viability of our agricultural industry is in the greater public interest.
Based upon stats from the Agricultural Land Base Monitoring Study, this report (d. April 2002) suggested that since 1976 “…the net loss of agricultural land has ranged from 50,000 – 60,000 acres annually….. land being lost is of significantly higher capability than land coming into production…..The greatest proportion of agricultural land being lost is within the Black Soil Zone in Alberta, in areas adjacent to Edmonton and Calgary, and along the Hwy #2 corridor. Lands in the Black Soil Zone are generally highest overall capability for agriculture. As such we need to give top priority to preserving those lands that are suitable for cereal and oilseed production for the benefit of current and future generations.
According to the AEPA report entitled “Efficient Use of Land and the Fragmentation and Conversion of Agricultural Land Initiative” (d. March 10, 2010) Alberta has a total land area of 66.4 million hectares of which 21.3 million hectares are farmed. Only 11 million hectares are cultivated lands. According to the authors of this report, we “…should plan development such that it occurs on poorer class agricultural soils – development should not be on the best agricultural land.”
This report identified the growing public concern around the issue of food security and also suggested that the government of Alberta is not doing enough to stop urban and rural residential sprawl and that existing policy may be insufficient. According to this report, “Efficient use of land should prevent development on Alberta’s best soils, retaining them for agricultural production.”
LAND STEWARDSHIP ACT AND LAND USE FRAMEWORK
Released in December 2008, the Land-use Framework(LUF) sets out a new approach to managing the province’s land and natural resources. The Alberta Land Stewardship Act, legislation complementary to the policies outlined in the LUF, was brought into law in October 2009 and governs the establishment and implementation of regional plans. According to the Alberta government “... the purpose of its Land-Use Framework (LUF) is to manage growth, not stop it, and to sustain our growing economy, but balance this with Albertans’ social and environmental goals (Executive Summary, p2).”
Land stewardship is clearly identified as the focus of the Land-Use Framework, notably in its vision, desired outcomes and guiding principles. According to the LUF, “managing our land is a shared responsibility that involves all Albertans – including industry, landowners, aboriginal peoples, individual Albertans and governments (Executive Summary, p2).”
The guiding principles of the LUF state that “... in Alberta, land-use decisions will be:
(Guiding Principles, p15)
While these principles may be supportable, the LUF is unfortunately governed by the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA), a piece of legislation which does not always employ and align with the guiding principles of the LUF. In fact, there may be some direct conflicts between the two, such as:
1) Prioritization: Alberta boasts a healthy percentage of agricultural land (the second largest in Canada, with 21.3 million hectares), which supports the industry’s placement as the province’s number two economic driver. However, while the LUF may address the need to protect prime agricultural lands as urbanization increases, and the Regional Advisory Committees (RACs) may develop plans to do so region-by-region, ALSA is the legislation that will ultimately govern land use in Alberta.
Currently, ALSA’s stated purposes are:
“(a) to provide a means by which the Government can give direction and provide leadership in identifying the objectives of the Province of Alberta, including economic, environmental and social objectives;
(b) to provide a means to plan for the future, recognizing the need to manage activity to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of current and future generations of Albertans, including aboriginal peoples;
(c) to create legislation and policy that enable sustainable development by taking account of and responding to the cumulative effect of human endeavour and other events.”
ALSA does not mention land stewardship or protection of agricultural lands anywhere in its purposes. ALSA should first and foremost be a means of prioritizing land stewardship for the sustainability of land, water and air, for agriculture and future Albertans. The LUF strongly expresses the need to prioritize land uses: “There are more and more people doing more and more activities on the same piece of land. The competition between user groups creates conflict, and often puts stress on the finite capacity of our land, air, water and habitat. (Executive Summary, p2)” However, ALSA does not include any reference to priorities for land stewardship. It seems reasonable to expect that a direct statement related to priorities for the stewardship of land would be included as a fundamental piece in the purposes of a “Land Stewardship Act”. Land Stewardship should be stated as the number one priority of ALSA, with conserving agricultural lands included as an objective.
2) Collaboration and Transparency: Although these terms are stated as guiding principles for the LUF, ALSA has given the Provincial Government carte blanche authority to unilaterally override any regional plan (Section 5(2)). Much time, effort, expertise and expense is going into the creation of the RACs and their plans. While it is not unreasonable to expect that the government would provide final approvals, this section of the legislation gives government the power to completely nullify the intensive efforts of the RACs and other Albertans to give input into land use plans. Albertans will labour diligently for three or more years to create the regional land use plans, and without recourse the provincial government can make their efforts of no consequence. In a democracy, more provision must be made to engage Albertans in shared planning.
Consequently, the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce recommends that the Government of Alberta:
*In Section 2.0 of the ALSA, “land” is defined as “everything in, on or under the land”
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