By Cole Parkinson
After several back and forth discussions between the Municipal District of Taber and Alberta Environment and Parks, it seems they are moving to a conclusion in regard to tax recovery lands.
While the Government of Alberta had transferred lands back to municipalities in 2011, several were withheld due to their sensitive and high conservation values.
“We received this letter in the middle of January in response to a meeting we had with Minister Shannon Phillips in regard to repatriation of our environmental sensitive tax recovery lands,” explained Brian Peers, director of municipal lands and leases at the M.D.’s regular meeting on Jan. 29.
“We thought this letter would spur us to come up with four or five main reasons why this land should be returned to the M.D. but in fact, it was just a letter saying they would like to meet. Derrick (Krizsan, CAO) and I will go up to Calgary on (Jan. 31) to meet with Karen Wronko who is the executive director of public lands policy to see what the process might look like.”
With the meeting set, there was still confusion as what exactly the M.D. was expecting to get out of the meetings.
“I recognize the Municipal District of Taber has been working diligently regarding tax recovery lands and have been advocating for a long time for their return. I appreciate the thoughtful ideas you have brought forward in our conversations on this issue. After careful consideration of your request related to the transfer of tax recovery lands. I am pleased to inform you, I agree to move forward in exploring the transfer of tax recovery land back to the Municipal District of Taber,” stated the letter from Minister Phillips.
“I’m not sure what that means, if it is a commitment to do so or it is just a way to kick the can down the road,” added Peers.
Some on council though expressed their thoughts that it was a good sign and would lead to regaining the land.
“To me, what she said was she is giving her staff authorization to move forward on this,” said Coun. Brian Brewin.
With a provincial election on the horizon, Peers also pointed out things can change quickly depending on the outcome at the polls.
“If she has given direction to make this happen, that is a good thing. We want to take advantage of it because the timing is critical with the pending election,” he said.
In terms of previous experience with land transfers, this situation is quite a bit different.
While Peers wasn’t in his current position the last time around, he explained to council that due to the sensitivity of the lands in question, it has provided a bigger challenge.
“It started long before I arrived here but it was a process with the traditional tax recovery lands. It wasn’t as rigorous because these ones had been determined and deemed sensitive. The decision had been made by the province to retain them so that is why we have had to fight a little harder for these ones than the initial transfers that have happened over the last years,” he said.
“The last three rounds of tax recovery transfers were all on one order of council and that did speed up the process a lot. They didn’t have to educate their bureaucrats every time it happened. We knew approximately when it was coming and how many acres were coming to us.”
Administration had questions on whether or not council wanted to send an elected official to the meeting as well. While it was an option, council was in favour of keeping it a meeting between the staffs of the M.D. and Alberta Environment and Parks.
“In my opinion, this is staff to staff. I think as soon as you get elected people in, their staff is going to be reluctant as to what they say. I think we have done our role as politicians, now it is up to you guys to meet behind the scenes,” said Brewin.
From discussion, it was administration’s belief that it would be one of several meetings between the two moving forward.
Administration also wanted to focus on the future of the lands and not dwell on what had happened in the past.
“I think we’d like to stress with them not talk about the history of how this all happened but how do we move forward from here and get this done,” continued Peers.
A motion was made to have M.D. staff meet with Alberta Environment and Parks staff in Calgary and was passed unanimously.