Everything according to plan … but whose plan? The Alberta Land Stewardship Act (2009)

On April 27, 2009 at 2:50 p.m. The Honourable Dr. Ted Morton, Minister of Sustainable Resource Development stood up in the Alberta Legislature and introduced what would become a very controversial piece of legislation. Bill 36 would become the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (2009) that would cause alliances to change and pit Albertans against each other over the same common goal. 

“With the input of Albertans, municipalities, business and environmental organizations this government created the land-use framework … [which] … introduces a new approach to land-use planning, … the creat[ion] of seven planning regions … [and] the creation of regional plans … The Alberta Land Stewardship Act will provide a blueprint for sustainable growth, a policy balance that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the opportunities of future generations” 

… a new approach to land-use planning … 

The new approach to land-use planning arises from land use problems that were identified in Alberta. This problems included the lack of overall vision for land use across the province, the need for long-term sustainability of Alberta’s land base, conservation of agricultural lands, and the escalation of the number of conflicts amongst land users and resource sectors. These problems were Identified by the Land Use Core Action Team in a report entitled Towards the Development of a Provincial Land Use Strategy (2002). The Land Use Core Action Team recommended that the Province adopt a more rigorous approach to protecting agricultural land through an enforceable province-wide framework of land use policies. 

By 2008 the Province had established the Land-Use Framework (LUF). The purpose of the LUF is to manage the sustainable growth of Alberta’s economy while balancing Albertan’s social and environmental goals. Key concepts applied in the LUF are: sustainability, accountability, responsibility, collaboration, transparency, integration, knowledge-based, responsive, equitable, respectful, and mindful land-use decisions. These key concepts are to have been built into the Alberta Land Stewardship Act and reflected within the planning regions. 

… seven planning regions … 

The Alberta Land Stewardship Act (2009) created seven planning regions based on Alberta’s seven major watersheds, namely: Athabasca, Beaver, Hay, North Saskatchewan, South Saskatchewan, Milk, and Peace/Slave. A watershed is an area of land that catches precipitation and drains into a larger body of water. Watersheds primarily function is to capture water, filter and store it and eventually release it into a larger body of water. 

Currently each major watershed is under the guidance of a watershed planning & advisory

council. These Councils operate within the provincial government’s Water for Life strategy. In addition they lead the planning, develop management practices, foster stewardship activities, report on the state of the watershed and educate the users of the watershed on the importance of their water resources. 

The Councils undertake a variety of actions to improve and protect their respective watersheds. This action includes: collaborating with land managers, providing advice and support to other watershed stewardship groups, presenting issues to the Alberta Water Council, raising awareness about the state of the watershed, building long-term partnerships, and making recommendations to water-use/land-use decision-making authorities. 

Each major watershed contains subwatersheds. For example approximately 41% of South Saskatchewan is made up by the Red Deer River, the remainder is made up by the Bow and the Oldman. Langdon belongs to the Rosebud River subwatershed (RBR) which is located within the Red Deer Watershed. Rosebud River subwatershed covers approximately 1.1 million acres and includes the counties of Kneehill, Mountain View, Wheatland, and Rocky View. Therefore, Langdon will be a part of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan. 

… creation of the regional plans … 

A regional plan describes the vision and objectives of a particular planning region. In other words, a regional plan is an expression of public policy by the provincial government. Every regional plan will contain the policies, thresholds, indicators, monitoring requirements, and specific actions/measures that are needed to achieve the described vision and objectives of a particular region. 

Final jurisdiction of any regional plan rests with the Executive Council of Alberta (Cabinet of Alberta). The Cabinet of Alberta may make any regulation pertaining to a regional plan and may appoint any person or entity to perform a function outlined in that plan. The Cabinet of Alberta has no limitations to amend or reject a regional plan. Regional plans only need to be reviewed every 10 years and the plan’s relevancy and effectiveness will be reported to the Stewardship Minister. All regional plans and any amendments must be made publicly available and published in the Alberta Gazette. 

Development of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan – which pertains to Langdon – is currently underway and approximately halfway through the process. Recently the South Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council has submitted its advice to the provincial government and should be commencing phase 2 consultations in the near future. 

The South Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council consists of 18 members who represent municipal and provincial bodies, industry, environmental, and aboriginal perspectives within the regional area. More information on the Advice to the Government of Alberta for the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan and the list of Council members may be found at http:// www.landuse.alberta.ca.

… a blueprint for sustainable growth 

Alberta is going to experience significant growth over the next 20 years. With ongoing increases in demand for Alberta energy by the United States, China, and India, substantial economic and population growth is inevitable. While both economic and population growth are good, they also 

bring some problems. Two particular problems that arise are inflation and an increase in the demand to convert land from prime agricultural into residential. 

Alberta has lost between 50,000 to 60,000 acres of agricultural land on an annual basis since 1976 (approximately a total of 2 million acres). Most of the converted land had been high yielding agricultural land in the areas adjacent to Edmonton, Calgary and along the QE2 (Queen Elizabeth II Highway formerly known as Highway 2). This loss of agricultural land has created an ongoing concern in Alberta. 

In 2010, the Agri-Environmental Partnership Alberta (AEPA) – a partnership between the agricultural industry, government, and public stakeholders – issued a report that raised concerns about the disappearance of prime agricultural land, food security, and the lack of the provincial government to stop urban and rural residential sprawl. 

The AEPA’s report, Efficient Use of Land and Fragmentation and Conversion of Agricultural Land Initiative (2010), communicated that Alberta has approximately 164 million acres of total land area, 52.6 million acres are farmland, of which 27.1 million acres are cultivated. Based on the average of 60,000 acres of agricultural land being converted each year, all the cultivated farmland in Alberta could potentially be converted within 450 years. While 450 years may seem to be a long time, a rapid increase in the growth of Alberta’s population would certainly accelerate the conversion rate of prime agricultural land into residential land. 

According to the Alberta Population Projections by Census Division, 2010-2050, Alberta’s total population is projected to grow from 3.7 million in 2011 to 4 million (2015) to 4.5 million (2020) and between 6-8 million by 2050. Furthermore it is projected that Calgary and its surrounding areas will experience the highest growth within the province. The Calgary region is projected to grow from 1.3 million in 2011 to 1.5 million (2015) to 1.6 million (2020) and as high as 2.5 million by 2025. In other words, population projections for the Calgary region is that the population will double over the next 15 years. 

Anticipating substantial population and economic growth over the next twenty years, it is obvious Albertans need a plan that will manage this growth while balancing social and environmental objectives. The debate will not be over the need for land-use policies, rather the battle will be over who should have “final jurisdiction” in defining the plan? 

* Note currently working its way through the Alberta Legislature is Alberta Land Stewardship Amendment Act, (2011 – Bill 10). This bill proposes some changes to the current legislation such as making a public consultation a requirement in the drafting a regional plan and allows

any title holder unduly affected by a regional plan to apply to the minister for a variance.

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