Oliver Longman and his plan for life-long in the Special Areas (Part 2)

Part two of a ten-part series about Oliver Longman and the history of the Special Areas.
In 1959, more than twenty years after writing the report that led to the creation of the Special Areas, Oliver Longman was interviewed by Una MacLean, who was compiling information for the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.
Longman, who had retired as Alberta’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture a few years earlier, carefully outlined his original thinking concerning the region that became known as the Special Areas.
Early on, Longman said, his objective was to make whatever changes were needed without disrupting the normal structure of local governments. He said that his original plan for tax recovery land was lifelong leases to age 65, with the leaseholder having a purchase option at that time.
“We had a lot of people on leased land,” Longman said, who “were just as badly off as the people who owned land.” He said his objective was to come up with an entirely new leasehold policy that would facilitate the stabilization of the region and its families.
Longman proposed that an individual should lease the land up to his 65th birthday, “with a subsequent purchase option” at that time. If a person signed a land lease at age 40, he would have a 25-year lease. If the lease had been signed at age 30, the leaseholder would have a 35-year lease.
Longman said that the annual lease rate would be based on the tax levy, with the leaseholder placing all payments into a personal trust account with the local municipal authority or provincial government. Money deposited into the account each year over and above the annual levy would receive interest guaranteed by the government.
The market value of the land would be identified in the lease contract, Longman said, adding that the plan didn’t impose a limit on leaseholder deposits to the individual trust accounts. All payments would receive the guaranteed interest, and no money could be withdrawn until the leaseholder turned 65.
Longman calculated the average production of land over a 35-year period, saying that if the leaseholder (on average) paid double taxes into the trust account each year, there would be adequate money for the leaseholder to buy the property outright and obtain title at age 65. If the leaseholder chose not to buy the property, the lease would terminate, and the accumulated cash could be withdrawn and used as a retirement fund.
Longman’s plan meant that leaseholders in the region would have had a way to acquire ownership of leased land without debt or mortgage. It also would have provided a way to shift vast quantities of leased land to private ownership.
Elements of Longman’s original proposal including the establishment of trust accounts were never acted upon, nor were proposals that he made in the 1950s, when he chaired a provincial inquiry into the Special Areas region. At that time, his commission evaluated the region and proposed solutions for a better and more vibrant future. One of his key proposals was to re-establish locally elected municipal government in the region. This, too, was never acted upon.

In part three of this series on Oliver Longman and the Special Areas history, we’ll look at the role of PFRA boss Larry Helmer and the early plan that called for up to 900,000 acres to be irrigated.
This commentary is by the Hard Grass Landowners Council and is prepared by an editorial committee that includes: Richard Bailey, Pat Rutledge, Bruce Beasley, and Murray Sankey.

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