Alberta, Strong and Free, has a nice ring to it. Jason Kenney is now trying to convince us that this Conservative government will, at last, grant us real property rights when 45 years of Conservative rule failed to do so.
While property rights should be basic to a free society, Albertans cannot say with certainty that their property rights are secure.
This is particularly true of our farmers and ranchers in Special Areas 2, 3, and 4, which sound a bit like the Russian zemstra of the 1860s.
After generations of serfdom, the Tsar had “freed” the peasants and allowed them to own land. He established zemstra in each district to resolve local economic issues.
These boards were composed of a few noblemen and delegates from the urban and peasant classes, but the noblemen carried 74 per cent of the weight in decision making.
However, a Governor had final veto power over any decision made.
Not exactly freedom!
Currently, in Alberta, the Minister of Municipal Affairs delegates broad powers to the Special Areas Board.
The Board can order and require the “owners” to adopt any methods of farming or grazing the Minister deems best.
One can hope that this Board will make good decisions but, as with all bureaucracies, there is the tendency to make decisions with a “one size fills all” mentality.
Board members may be well-meaning but may be unaware of the specific circumstances, problems, and/ or innovative ideas of each farmer or rancher.
Furthermore, leasing land does not encourage the sense of stewardship that private ownership does.
The Longman (1953) and Hanson (1961) Commissions recommended a return to municipal district status, but a Mr. Clyde Stauffer discouraged its implementation due to a fear of drought – so Special Areas 2, 3, and 4 remain (The Special Areas – Canada Institute of Resources Law).
Perhaps it is at last time to take courage and phase out the Special Areas Boards, replacing them with municipal governments as was successfully done in Cypress, Newell, Forty Mile and Taber.
Think of Taber corn; imagine the benefits of adding some irrigation to Special Areas 2, 3, and 4!
Perhaps some Special Area farmers and ranchers are comfortable with their surface rights income without actual property rights and freedom to determine land use themselves.
However, to others, it must appear that their surface rights income is almost like blackmail in that their particular land use can be withdrawn at any time by the Minister or if someone “reports” them to the Board.
Now is the time to move on this – to employ our out-of-work energy sector workers on a serious irrigation system in the Drumheller-Stettler riding.
Now is the time to elect an Independent with Legislative experience who can pressure the Conservatives to actually follow through on their years of promises.
Now is the time for Special Areas farmers and ranchers to accept the challenges of freedom.