Commissions said change was needed (part nine)

Part nine of a series about the history of the Special Areas
The chairman’s name was Hanson, so it’s commonly referred to as the Hanson Commission. It’s real name was the Special Areas Investigations Committee. Its purpose was explained by Greg Marchildon, a historian and university professor.
Marchildon said that in 1960, the Alberta government appointed a three-person commission, chaired by W.R. Hanson, to determine:
1.) whether the conditions that had led to the establishment of the Special Areas were “still sufficient to warrant the continuance” of the administration; and
2.) “[whether] the agricultural conditions in the Special Areas are of a sufficiently different character in comparison to other areas of the Province to warrant the special type of administration now in force.”
The Hanson Commission concluded that circumstances had significantly improved across the region, and said that, as an instrument, the Special Areas Act and Board were “well conceived to accomplish the job at hand,” adding that the “administration has generally been well carried out.”
The report clearly stated that the reason for creating the Special Areas Board in the first place had been Ottawa’s homestead and settlement policies. They said the Special Areas was an “administration aimed at correcting the errors of a mistaken settlement policy.”
The report said: “The [Special Areas] Act was constructed to make possible the accomplishment of a specific purpose, that of bringing about agricultural and economic adjustment over the area.
Once the purpose is accomplished then that form of government will need to be replaced….”
There are 11 formal recommendations, some related to land use and grazing. However, the very first recommendation calls for the phasing out of the Special Areas Board and the creation of the “same form of local self-government as is in practice elsewhere in Alberta.”
The report stated: “It is… the opinion of the committee that local municipal government can be established in the Special Areas without upsetting the advancements in agricultural adjustment and land utilization….”
It indicated that after a phase-in period of perhaps ten years, “eventually the local government of the Special Areas should correspond with that of other units [municipalities].”
Also recommended was a study to determine how “grazing leases [could] be offered for sale to an occupying tenant in balanced economic units,” as well as the development and implementation of a “systematic plan” for water resources that would include irrigation.
Within the body of the report itself, other recommendations appear. For example, the Commission stated that the “Committee does not endorse the suggestion that land sold to a lessee have a caveat prohibiting plowing of such land because, in the first place, we think a caveat of that kind is unworkable, and in the second place, a complete ban on the plowing of land on a ranch is unwise.
A ranch operates more efficiently with some cultivated land… production and even the potential quality of the land can be improved by a system of rotation of grass and crop.”
It’s been 64 years since the Longman Commission studied the Special Areas and 56 years since the Hanson Commission did the same.
Neither commissions’ recommendations for re-establishing locally elected municipal government have been implemented, although the former Special Areas region near Taber did have locally-elected municipal government restored in the 1950s, and the Special Areas region north of Medicine Hat in the 1980s.
This commentary is by the Hard Grass Landowners Council and is prepared by an editorial committee that includes: Bruce Beasley, Richard Bailey, Mark Doolaege, and Pat Rutledge.

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