Leaders of rural municipalities are urging the province to move forward with a bill that affects the process through which it acquires private land for major public projects.
On Wednesday morning, members of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties passed a resolution urging the province to move forward with Bill 19, the Land Assembly Project Area Act.
Infrastructure Minister Jack Hayden, MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, welcomes the endorsement after taking heavy fire from the Alberta Green Party.
Its leadership believes the bill is an unacceptable erosion of property rights and has organized a series of public meetings concerning its powers.
Green Party spokesman Edwin Erickson of Buck Lake, in an article published online on March 13, said Bill 19 “takes the notion of expropriation to a whole new level.”
A caption with Hayden’s picture in the online article questioned whether the minister was a “provincial land thief.”
“As I read it, you will be removed from your property at the discretion of the minister,” Erickson wrote.
Bill 19 does nothing of the sort, Hayden said after a meeting with fellow Conservatives in Red Deer on Wednesday.
The only time people could be forced off their property is under an enforcement order, when all other means have failed, he said.
Alberta has issued only one enforcement order in 35 years, and that occurred when a neighbour illegally dumped refuse on land that had been set aside for a government project.
Hayden was still feeling the bruises from attending a public meeting the Greens had organized on Monday evening in Ryley, about 85 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.
He and other MLAs have been invited to attend six meetings so far and plan to attend more, including a meeting with the Pine Lake Surface Rights Action Group in Innisfail on April 8.
“Ryley was really uncomfortable. It was a situation where it was a controlled agenda.
“That happens, but we’re elected to represent the public and we have to deal with situations like that.
“We need to talk to people about this. This is really good legislation.”
All levels of government already have the tools to expropriate land when it’s for the good of the greater public, said Hayden.
Expropriations take place when all other attempts at negotiation have failed, he said.
Bill 19 will require that the province consult with landowners before acquiring land for a project and it will also require that those landowners be paid for their land at fair market value.
Neither of those requirements exist in current legislation, said Hayden.
Further, under the new act, landowners can set the date they actually sell their property to the province.
They have a choice of selling it right away or remaining on the land until it is actually needed for the project, allowing it the potential to gain value in the meantime, he said.
“If the landowners know up front what their options are, should they decide to be the person that speculates on the value of that land going down the road, that’s great. Hair on them.”