By Rob Vogt
Local Press Writer
The budget will be the primary focus of Alberta’s official opposition when the legislature resumes sitting in March.
For Pat Stier, MLA for Livingstone-Macleod and official opposition critic for sustainable resource development, it will mean asking his government counterpart about land use, and the potential compensation for landowners. Part of Stier’s responsibility is the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA), the regional development plans it will create, and the resulting impact on landowners. One plan has already been adopted for the Lower Athabasca region. Currently, public consultation is under way for the South Saskatchewan region, which includes all of Southern Alberta.
Stier fears the South Saskatchewan plan will take away from municipal authority over development. Municipalities will have to make their municipal development plans conform to the regional plan. Worse, the plan’s provision for establishing conservation areas will take away from the rights of landowners.
“These landowners are not asking for these changes,” Stier said. “They’re being imposed.”
Even more troubling for Stier, and this is where the budget process comes in, is how much compensation the government will have to pay to landowners when the South Saskatchewan plan becomes a reality. He referred to the Lower Athabasca plan which led to the cancellation of 19 oil and gas leases which led to $21 million paid out in compensation. This does not include the money spent on planning, well testing, and exploration, and the billions lost in revenue from development.
“What are we really out for?” Stier asked, adding he wonders if the government will cancel grazing leases, or more oil and gas leases.
He noted there will be no legislative debate on the plan. There is a draft report out now, and another round of public consultations has begun. Stier encouraged everyone affected by the regional plan to make their voice heard.
“They need to get out there and they need to get on this before their rights are affected and/or removed,” Stier said. That means visiting the government’s website and reading the draft plan. “They need to get ahold of (Minister Diana) McQueen’s office and register their concerns in a very dramatic way.”
Stier also applauded the opening last week of the Property Rights Advocate’s office in Lethbridge and the appointment of Lee Cutforth to that role. Yet, Stier fears the advocate will have no real authority.
“His hands are tied,” Stier said, noting ALSA and the regional plan are paramount. ”It’ll be interesting to see what he can do, if anything.”
During the provincial budget debate, each critic will have an hour to ask questions of his or her government counterpart. Stier will ask how far out on a limb taxpayers will be when the regional plan takes effect.
“How much is it going to cost the taxpayers with these new rules that they created?” he asked. Moreover, there are far-reaching implications of the regional plan on everything from a loss in property values to mortgages, and even insurance.
The regional plan is a symptom, he continued, of a loss of local control, something his party wants to reverse.
“Local control, local needs, we’ve been advocating that for years,” he said, noting local control has been lost in education, health care, and ambulance service. And the opposition will be asking the government about all these parts of the budget.
“We’ll try to get them to listen to good, sound, financial planning,” Stier noted
The opposition will also release its own alternative budget, identifying its priorities. “This government won’t release a list of priorities,” Stier said. “We ask for it every day in the house.”