Canada: Alberta Introduces Land Use Legislation

The Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) was proclaimed on September 1, 2009. The ALSA is part of the Land-Use Framework (LUF), the Government of Alberta's initiative to transform Alberta's approach to land-use planning.

The land-use framework

The LUF was finalized in December 2008 after two years of consultation with representatives of the public, municipalities, Aboriginal peoples, industry and environmental groups. Directed at managing growth in a way that balances economic, social and environmental interests in public and private lands, the LUF provides a blueprint for land-use management and decision-making within Alberta. Specifically, the LUF incorporates seven strategies to improve land-use decision-making:

  1. development of seven regional land-use plans based on new integrated planning regions that are congruent with Alberta's major watersheds;
  2. creation of a Land-Use Secretariat to support the implementation of the LUF and creation of Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) for each land-use region;
  3. use of cumulative effects management on a regional basis to manage the impacts of development on land, water and air;
  4. development of policy instruments to encourage stewardship and conservation of public goods;
  5. promotion of efficient use of land;
  6. establishment of an information and monitoring system to ensure that the outcomes of the LUF are being met; and
  7. inclusion of Aboriginal peoples in land-use planning.

Regional plans

The Alberta Government is developing, with input from the public, stakeholders and Aboriginal communities and advice from the RACs, seven regional land-use plans covering all of Alberta. The regional plans will be the key documents in terms of future planning for each of the seven regions. When the regional plans are made effective, all decisions involving land-use (including all project development decisions) must be consistent with the provincial policies and directions set out in the regional plans. The ALSA provides that the regional plans will be binding on all persons in Alberta, including the Crown, municipal governments and decision-making boards. While regional plans will be enforced, for the most part, by existing mechanisms, the regional plans may contain penalty and enforcement provisions in order to ensure compliance with their terms.

The Government of Alberta has indicated that regional plans will contain a regional profile, the policy context for the plan, a regional vision statement, objectives and goals, strategies, actions and approaches, and monitoring and reporting. Regional plans are intended to paint a picture of how a region should look over several decades as well as desired outcomes for the region, with a planning horizon of up to 50 years. Regional plans will be designed to be effective for a five to 10 year period, after which they will be reviewed and updated as needed to address the realities of the day.

The newly established Land Use Secretariat is charged with leading the development of the regional plans, monitoring and reporting on the planning process for the plans and will also be involved in the development of all regulations associated with the plans under the ALSA.

Conservation tools

The ALSA also provides for a number of conservation and stewardship tools:

  • Conservation Easements - easements that can be registered on title and voluntarily granted by a registered landowner to qualified organizations in order to protect land for some environmental or agricultural purpose.
  • Conservation Directives - may be implemented by Cabinet in regional plans for the purpose of protecting some environmental or natural aspect of land. Upon doing so, Cabinet is required to provide the registered landowner with notice of the conservation directive and the landowner can seek compensation from the Government of Alberta.
  • Stewardship Units - an environmental offset market for stewardship units may be implemented, which could involve marketable, bankable credits representing an environmentally positive action.
  • Conservation Offset Programs - regulations under the ALSA may be implemented that would require project developers to counterbalance the environmental impacts of their activities by taking environmentally protective steps (such as purchasing stewardship units or arranging for the establishment of conservation easements on other lands).
  • Transfer Development Credit Schemes - may be implemented in order to direct development away from ecological areas.

The impact of the ALSA

To support and ensure compliance with the regional plans, consequential amendments were made to more than 25 pieces of legislation as a result of the ALSA. Examples of amended provincial legislation that may be of particular interest to industry include the Municipal Government Act, the Public Lands Act, the Energy Resources and Conservation Act, the Mines and Minerals Act and the Water Act.

The regional plans may expressly affect, amend or extinguish statutory consents or the terms or conditions of any statutory consent. Statutory consents under the ALSA include permits, licenses, registrations, approvals, authorizations, dispositions, certificates, allocations, agreements or instruments issued under or authorized by an enactment or regulatory instrument. To the extent that a regional plan under the ALSA affects any holders of statutory consents, those holders will be given reasonable notice and an opportunity to propose alternate means of achieving or maintaining the goals or objectives of the regional plan without altering the statutory consent in question.

Next steps

The Alberta government intends to have all seven regional plans completed by the end of 2012. At present, RACs have been established for the South Saskatchewan and the Lower Athabasca regions and have begun the process of developing their recommendations regarding those regional plans, including public consultations. The Government intends to have those regional plans developed by 2010. The Lower Athabasca region includes the Athabasca and Cold Lake oil sands areas, while the South Saskatchewan region includes Calgary and much of southern Alberta. The Government has also released Terms of Reference for the Lower Athabasca Region, in which the Government has provided the Lower Athabasca RAC with some policy guidance in terms of its recommendations for that region.

The Land Use Secretariat has begun work on applicable regulations for the ALSA, including a regulation which will govern the public consultation process for development of the regional plans.

Given the significant potential impacts of regional plans, industry stakeholders may wish to become involved in the consultation processes for the regional plans in their regions and the regulatory framework in relation to those plans.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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