One of the benefits of being Canadian is being able to speak your mind.
This is why Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox got into politics.
“Anybody can have their opinions listened to, heard and acted on,” Fox told members of the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce Sept. 17.
He updated businesspeople on some of the issues he will be tackling over the next year. Fox is the Wildrose critic for Service Alberta and despite being a relatively low-key department, “it’s the nuts and bolts on how our government operates.”
One area he is concerned about is a move within the provincial government to privatize the Land Titles Office. “This is what actually protects landowners in the province.”
He feels selling Land Titles to a private organization may not be of benefit to landowners. They may not have control over what happens to their information once sold, he added.
Moira Kennedy does not want to see land titles become private as there are land agents working in the oil patch. “If this becomes privatized the oil industry is just going to chomp this up and have a monopoly on it and become very unfair.”
Every time a person buys land that information is saved and documented. If a person makes a claim on a property stating the land is encroaching on a neighbour’s then a caveat gets put on the land.
“It’s the one thing that guarantees the right (of) what that spatial data is,” explained Fox. “By having a private company we don’t know who’s going to have access to that information and what’s going to happen.”
He says in Ontario, where the industry is privatized, land title insurance must be taken out on the home in that event. Fox feels the move to privatize the Land Titles office is for the sale value. “Here in the province we generate $80 million off of land titles registry every year. The cost to operate that is about $12 million.”
Fox is also working on acquiring information on recent Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) hearings. “I’ve actually had to do an information request on the review itself.”
He wants to know what will happen next with the review and who Service Alberta intends to speak with next. Access to information can be a challenge for people; generally a FOIP request costs $25 and then staff determines what the cost of compiling and releasing the required information. Fox recalls putting in a FOIP request for a medical case and received notice there would be a fee of $25,000.
“Is this really being transparent?” Fox asked.
“The highest we’ve seen came in at over $80,000,”he added.
Fox compared this amount to the federal government, which charges $5. An open data portal at http://data.alberta.ca/ does provide some information but seeking specific information only brings up generalized numbers.
“These are what I would call fundamental to democracy,” said Fox.
He praised Edmonton’s practice of scanning information and having data available online for anyone interested.
Another area Fox has seen some change is by fighting for condominium owners’ rights. Condo fees owners paid toward upkeep and repairs were not allowed to be used for fixing the roofs, fixing leaks, replacing siding or shoveling driveways. Owners would receive a special assessment to be allowed to go forward with repairs.
“Rather than taking money out of the condo fees that had been paid in month over month over month,” explained Fox.
The MLA also spoke in the legislature about Black Ribbon Day, which commemorates the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact, a partnership with Nazy Germany and Soviet Russia allowing each country to illegally seize property from land in-between the two nations. “It was a real honour to be able to stand up on Aug. 26 in the legislature and pay tribute to those people in Eastern Europe and their descendants here in Alberta…It was one of the biggest highlights for me so far.”