The right to appeal a Ponoka County council decision hangs in the balance after a judge adjourned hearing legal arguments due to an unprecedented higher court ruling.
Legal representatives from Ponoka County and the Ponoka Right to Farm group were slated to present their sides to an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench judge in Wetaskiwin Dec. 19. The group is looking for leave to appeal on the county approving the Northwest Area Structure Plan (ASP).
However, the judge didn’t hear any arguments.
Instead, the case was set aside for two months in order for the judge and lawyers from both sides to pour over a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that — in the judge’s words — would have a significant affect on arguments and a potential ruling. The hearing was rescheduled for Feb. 20.
Right to Farm spokesperson John Hulsman was disappointed with the adjournment, but said since it was out of their control there was no reason to worry.
“Our lawyer will conduct a thorough review of the Supreme Court’s decision and how that will impact how he presents this case,” Hulsman said.
“The new ruling seems to put more weight on some things and less on others. However, in terms of the actual case, we think it affects that very little.”
For Ponoka County, their legal representation’s cursory look has given CAO Charlie Cutforth some positive feelings about the potential outcome.
“One way or the other, it’s likely this matter will be dealt with on the next court date,” he said.
“It has always been the view of the county, amid much pressure, to maintain a balance. We are only looking to address the concerns of all residents and really to see how the confined feeding operations could be spread around the county.”
He added the county will wait until after a ruling is handed down before commenting on what potential next steps might be.
“I was happy to see that many of their supporters that turned up at the courthouse shook my hand. I know it’s not personal,” he said.
One reason he believes is behind the legal action is the potential risk the group sees to the industry as a whole and that other municipalities may follow suit, thereby possibly shrinking the availability to set up an operation.
The ruling in question from the Supreme Court of Canada was released earlier that day. It saw the majority of the nine justices (7-2) deny a federal government appeal of a Federal Court of Canada decision to reinstate the Canadian citizenship of the son of two Russian spies.
In denying the appeal, the majority determined that it was unreasonable to have cancelled the man’s citizenship.
However, the majority also ruled that two aspects of the case warranted further clarification — that being the standard for reviewing administrative rulings and better guidance for courts on application of the reasonableness standard.
In coming to a conclusion, the Supreme Court majority overturned an 11-year-old decision and effectively changed how Canadian judges must look at the reasonableness of administrative rulings, which include decisions made by municipal councils.
The decision outlines that courts must now decided whether to apply the reasonableness review of a decision or the correctiveness review.
As was explained in the Court’s written ruling, the default standard should be if a decision is reasonable the court should accept any administrative decision meets that standard — even if they would have decided something different. If it isn’t reasonable, then it would be sent back to the body, in this case Ponoka County council, to have another look. Or in the very rare case, the court may replace the decision with one of its own.
The ruling further states people need to understand decisions that apply to them — it’s important for decision-makers such as councils to explain why they came up with their decision.
However, the decision also noted two exceptions to this standard — lawmakers putting in a different standard that applies and when a rule of law is being questioned where there is a need for a correct ruling to be made.