If resolutions and corridor discussions at a number of recent agricultural producer organizations meetings are any indication, there may be a very large political issue growing in the countryside. It’s an issue that could possibly knock the present Progressive Conservative government on its collective butt in rural ridings in the next election. It all has to do with that most visceral of issues to rural citizens – land ownership. It’s considered a God given right and anyone, (particularly governments), trying to mess with it will be paying the political price.
The issue is particularly sensitive in Alberta due to the political perspectives of most of the citizens, particularly those who make their living off the land. Considering that non-urban ridings form a lopsided majority within the present PC government, one might assume that this government would be particularly attuned to this rising political elephant in the room. If they are, their legislative program seems to show an appalling lack of sensitivity to what folks on farms and ranches want to believe about land their ownership rights.
The issue seems to go back almost 10 years and seemingly with good intentions. But as the saying goes ‘the road to hell is always paved with good intentions’. Like governments everywhere, politicians and bureaucrats like to plan things and Alberta seemingly lacked the one big plan -overall land use- and the policies surrounding its development. And as governments would have it, they prefer the planning to be from the top down, so the peasants on the bottom can benefit from all the wisdom at the top. Just in case any lowly citizens don’t understand their role in this process, the Alberta government set forth pieces of legislation that, in the end, gives it overall power to control any discontent or rebellion. Citizens would have to accept the process and not even the courts could help them.
That saw the provincial government institute the now infamous land-control legislative troika of Bills 19, 36 and 50. Government apologists insisted that they were but minor pieces of legislation that were designed to merely assist the land use planning process. The message was “don’t worry – trust us”. Nowadays, whenever citizens hear those words from government politicians and bureaucrats, they immediately, and rightfully, suspect the worst and put a solid grip on their wallets. What became clear was that the provincial government had quietly instituted some of the most draconian land and resource-control measures in the country and to drive it home, the government made sure the humble landowner had absolutely no recourse of appeal, not even to the courts, as the minister of the day and cabinet was given the final say – period.
To placate those that might notice this assault on property rights, the government set up the Land-Use Framework process. It’s an exercise where in seven regional zones in the province, selected citizens, groups, bureaucrats etc. would sit down and create a regional land use and development plan which would provide the blueprint for each area’s future. Considering the disparate folks involved in the process, energy, forestry, recreational, environmental etc., agriculture folks quickly realized that it would, in many cases, be their land and its future at stake and decided upon by outsiders and manipulative bureaucrats.
The ag industry has since mobilized in an attempt to gain some influence on the land use framework planning process. But it’s gone beyond that; the issue has become so inflamed that landowners are looking for a more direct resolution to this assault on their property rights. They are seeming to want to use the ballot box to stop the process and reverse the theft of their rights. That has seen the Wildrose Alliance Party embrace property rights as their central issue in the countryside. They even proclaim that they will revoke the infamous legislative troika of bills. That has seen their popularity soar, where they are now three percentage points more popular with rural voters than the present PC party government.
This long entrenched government, who seems to perceive rural citizens as their captive voters, may well dismiss the issue as a minor irritant that will be quickly forgotten and any wayward voters will come to their senses and dutifully return to the PC fold at re-election time.
However, I am not so sure this time; past history has shown that threats to a person’s land have a bad habit of turning even the most conservative into rebels. That growing army of property rights rebels have every possibility of removing the present government landlord at the next election.