By Stephen Dafoe
Bon Accord – Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith made a brief stop at Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm Friday afternoon to tour the facility and meet with local party supporters. The stop over was part of her tour through Sturgeon, Thorhild and Smokey Lake Counties this past weekend.
Smith said she was impressed with the local facility but concerned that the popular destination for locals and tourists could be in jeopardy should the Heartland Transmission Project select a route that would carry the proposed 500 kilovolt double-circuit overhead lines directly over Prairie Gardens’ entrance gate.
“I think it would be a real loss to this area to lose such a fun family festival outing,” Smith said. “I think it would be a real shame for somebody who’s built up a local farming operation that’s doing incredibly well. They could be run out of business because of it.”
The Wildrose leader said she hoped there could be some kind of accommodations made so that doesn’t happen.
“It certainly does show, just being here, the local impact these kinds of decisions are making and why it’s so vital that we have a process for managing the consultations around needs assessment, and that we’re actually building power lines that are needed, rather than unnecessarily disrupting our local farmers,” Smith said.
The Wildrose leader said she felt the province went wrong from the beginning by forcing through the approvals for four transmission lines without doing a proper needs assessment. “From what I can see, they haven’t clearly made the case to me; they haven’t clearly made the case to Albertans that we actually need the transmission lines that are being proposed under Bill 50.”
Smith said needs assessment has to be the starting point and if it is determined the lines are needed, then discussions with affected land owners would begin. “But once that decision has already been made without consultation, I think a lot of landowners are feeling powerless. That’s why we as a party and the other opposition parties have been such staunch critics of Bill 50 and we’re going to continue to.”
But while smith feels Bill 50 has left landowners in Sturgeon County feeling powerless, she feels the approval of Bill 36 will leave them even more so. According to the province, Bill 36 – the Land Stewardship Act – is designed to set the bar for responsible regional planning. Smith and her party disagree, seeing Bill 36 instead as an open door through which the province can violate landowner rights.
“This is another area where the farmer here may be impacted,” Smith said of Bill 36. “It allows for the province to decide what land uses will be permitted and what land uses will be prohibited on every acre of land in the entire province. It allows them to extinguish landowner and leaseholder rights without compensation, without recourse to the courts.”
Smith said she felt the issue in Sturgeon County and other parts of the province will be on water rights. The leader said she feels there has been some uncertainty over the past few years as to whether the province is going to honour the principle of first in time, first in right.
“If they believe that they can just make it easier by reshuffling the deck and starting from scratch; it has the potential to have an immense amount of harm on landowners who’ve built their entire businesses on having some security of being able to have water. Water is the life blood of your economy. If you don’t have water, it impacts your industrial development; it impacts your commercial development; it impacts your farm development, and there are many, many investment decisions that have been made on the basis of that security. The fact that the province is forging ahead under the umbrella of legislation that could put all of that at risk is very alarming for landowners.”
Smith said her party will continue to raise the issue of compensation for landowners and proper consultation where landowner rights are concerned.