By Treena Mielke
Albertans are being duped by government legislation that makes a mockery of democracy, an Edmonton lawyer told a crowd of close to 100 people who crowded into the Moose Hall Aug. 8.
Keith Wilson, a keynote speaker at locally-organized and landowner meetings across the province, spoke for more than two hours to an attentive audience about land bills that he claims are filled with disturbing legislation.
“The Alberta Government’s land bills known as Bills 19, 24, 36 (10) and 50 are without precedent in Canada, or even in the free societies of our western democracies,” Wilson said. “The overall impact of the bills is to usurp the role of the courts, deprive landowners of due process of law and deny landowners access to fair compensation when property owner’s holdings are taken away.’
Although Wilson gave a critical assessment of all the bills, he seemed particularly passionate about Bill 50, which he says is responsible for giving the green light to planned power line upgrades.
He pointed out the AltaLink and ATCO are being paid by Albertans for the full cost of building transmission lines, but, in the end, the companies own the lines.
“These lines are built on a cost plus nine per cent rate of return on investment basis, meaning the company that builds them owns them, has no risk and gets a guaranteed return on investment,” he said.
Wilson noted that prior to Bill 50 the Alberta Utilities Commission had the authority to decide if the power lines were really needed.
“The commission was designed to conduct a public and transparent needs assessment (to be) carried out by an expert panel, prior to approving new construction or expansion. Its job is to decide if there really is a public need, or if building a new power line is just a want on the part of a company. The commission had to do the cost-benefit analysis to see if we need the lines and whether we could afford them.”
However, since Bill 50 has been passed, the decision-making authority has been taken from the AUC and moved into the backroom of the provincial cabinet, Wilson explained.
As a result, $16 billion worth of new transmission line construction has been approved without the benefit of a needs assessment or cost controls, he added.
Passing Bill 50 caused an outcry of protest among some of the province’s major industries, said Wilson.
“This isn’t my opinion, and this isn’t a group of environmentalists,” he said. “These are the big power consumers in the province who want and need electricity. They have gone so far as to send a letter to every member of the government, urging that government not to go ahead with this unneeded mega project. These major industry groups have no choice but to relocate outside the province because the net effect will be to triple power rates.”
During his presentation, Wilson also warned the crowd about the negative implications of Bill 19, which he said is designed to legally get around the Expropriation Act.
“The bottom line is that once your land is frozen under Bill 19, the government could prohibit you from doing anything on your land that might increase its value. Another way to look at the impact of the bill is to imagine a farmer who has a dairy barn and milks 60 cows. If he wanted to take that herd up to 100 cows, because one or more of his adult children wanted to get into the business as well, Bill 19 would prohibit it and could do so for decades.”
In a critical evaluation of Bill 24 — The Carbon Capture and Storage Statues Amendment Act — Wilson pointed out that this bill takes away ownership of the pore space from those who own it and gives it to the government.
Normally, at law, this would be deemed an expropriation and compensation would be payable. However, Wilson said Bill 24 contains legal working that says that no court can find this taking to be an expropriation and no compensation is payable.
Wilson slammed Bill 36, The Alberta Land Stewardship Act, stating it is the most complete and absolute power that could be put into legal language.
“The thinking behind the act is that the cabinet will make a five-year plan and in that plan they will describe what kinds of uses and activities are allowed and not allowed on all private land and public land in the province. The act enables the cabinet to set “social, economic and environmental policies” for all activities on all land in Alberta,” he said.
Albertans need to educate themselves about the impacts of Bills 19, 24, 36 and 50, Wilson said.
“Do whatever you can to get the word out,” Wilson urged the audience. “The new laws are bad and simply not needed. They are undemocratic and unfair. And this is not the Alberta that I want for the future.”
Bill Kuncio from Ponoka, who chatted with Wilson after the meeting, said the bills were “a terrible erosion of our rights.”
Dave Thevenaz from the Bentley area, believes Wilson to be very well informed. “It was a very good meeting and Keith is doing this with no pay. I hope it makes a difference.”