BY LORNE FITCH
Founded in political ideology, the provincial government’s current red tape reduction efforts have created a boondoggle of confusion, weakened protections, and, ironically, more red tape. Admittedly, some bureaucratic procedures and forms seem petty and unnecessary, and it's easy to see the appeal of some reduction. But eliminating essential rules, regulations, and legislation, especially related to the protection of our public lands and parks, is something else.
Bill 21, the Red Tape Reduction Statutes Amendment Act, is an omnibus bill that hides more than it reveals. It proposes amendments to 15 pieces of legislation, including the Public Lands Act and the Provincial Parks Act. In both of these instances, the red tape being “reduced” hobbles land-use protection on public land, the land held in trust for Albertans.
Our politicians would have us think that all forms of red tape reduction are the same. Moreover, the changes are portrayed as relatively minor bureaucratic procedures. However, the removal of inconsequential irritants is not what red tape reduction means in the legislation currently being debated. The real intent is to promote business through the relaxation or elimination of important rules on how development occurs. In the words of Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction Tanya Fir, “the more red tape we cut, the more we ensure Alberta is the destination of choice for investors.”
Red tape reduction is a smooth term, fine-tuned by marketing specialists to disguise a process of undermining environmental protection. This legislation targets mechanisms in place to keep ill-advised and inappropriate developments at bay, so they do not degrade or destroy public resources. The Alberta public — the majority of whom are concerned about the natural environment, water quality, biodiversity, and open space — should view proposed changes to the rules governing development with alarm.
The amendments would give the minister of Environment and Parks and senior managers the opportunity to side-step land-use plans, which were created with extensive public involvement, and unilaterally approve a variety of end uses on a site-by-site basis. Because this would occur site by site, this actually increases red tape through inconsistent and muddled application of rules across the board.
It is also unclear if any of these changes would be subject to environmental impact assessments, cumulative effects implications, public input (including Indigenous concerns), or prevailing public opinion about the uses to which our public lands should be put. Red tape reduction is an attempt to avoid the messy, “onerous” business of adhering to the conditions Albertans want imposed on land uses for the long-term good of public lands and resources.
We need strong regulatory rules in place to define the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and standards. Legislation to protect public land wasn’t developed on a whim — it evolved to create certainty. Bill 21 will reduce certainty and, like a teenager lashing out against parental rules, is an attempt to avoid having restrictions that constrain ministerial or bureaucratic “freedom.”
Albertans should see red over the watering down of legislation protecting public lands under the guise of red tape reduction. Prosperity and environmental quality need not be strangers, but the government’s focus on the former comes at the expense of the latter. It seems like a one-way street to an ecologically impoverished province. Please write to Associate Minister of Red Tape Tanya Fir (email@example.com) and Minister of Environment and Parks Whitney Issik (aep.minister@ gov.ab.ca) to voice your concerns about the progressive weakening of environmental protection in Alberta and how Bill 21 contributes to it.