How do you feel about unequal treatment? (part 7)

Part seven of a series about the history of the Special Areas.
How would you feel about living in a community where you get treated differently from everybody else—where you have fewer legal rights than other people, or none at all?
How would you feel if you were a farmer or rancher, and the government passed a law saying that it can tell you what crop to grow or what kind of grazing practices to follow on every acre of your titled land?
How would you feel about a law that says a single cabinet minister in Edmonton can take possession of your land for a government project (making it the government’s property), while denying you the right to compensation and appeal?
How would you feel about a law that gives a single cabinet minister the power to approve any financial or development “scheme” he thinks will be good for you and your region, even if you disagree?
You may be thinking that no civilized nation would ever do such things. You’d be wrong. People living in the Special Areas of Alberta are already subject to these laws and rules, all of which are contained in the Special Areas Act.
The Special Areas Act was passed into law in the late 1930s, after tens of thousands of people had already abandoned homesteads in southern, southeast, and south-central Alberta. In the early years of settlement, Ottawa’s homestead policy was to put a dryland dirt farm on every half-section, ignoring the fact that in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan a dirt farmer could not make a living on land primarily suited for grazing.
Under Ottawa’s watchful eye, arriving immigrants flocked to these arid regions, broke ground, built soddies and homes, and tried to make a go of it.
Not surprisingly, most could not. By the time the Special Areas Act was passed, the exodus had been going on for more than 25 years. Half the homesteaders had already moved away.
When the Special Areas Act was passed it gave sweeping powers to a single cabinet minister. Section 7 of the Act says: “The Minister may… order and require any owner or occupant of land to adopt any methods of farming or grazing, or farming and grazing.…”
The Act empowers the Minister to classify and utilize all lands in a Special Area (including private land) for the purpose he considers best (Section 7h).
The Act also empowers him to obtain by “purchase or otherwise” any property for the exercise of “any powers conferred” by the Act.
Section 11 gives government the power to “enter on and occupy any land in a special area” to carry out “any work or undertaking.” It further says that land “occupied [by the government]… is deemed to be the property of the Crown.”
The Act also indicates that in such situations compensation is not a landowner’s right, but is at the minister’s “discretion.”
Some might argue that the Special Areas Act had a time and a place. Perhaps. But after 75 years, surely it is time for the Special Areas and its people to come under the same laws as other Albertans, and to fully experience and enjoy the same rights of ownership, locally elected government, and economic development considerations that have been applied to other regions of the province whose past experience has been quite similar to our own.
This commentary is by the Hard Grass Landowners Council and is prepared by an editorial committee that includes: Bruce Beasley, Richard Bailey, Murray Sankey, and Pat Rutledge.

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