By Collin Gallant
Alta Newspaper Group -Medicine Hat
Changes proposed for Alberta’s grazing leases in a government bill introduced on June 11 are meant to improve interprovincial trade while work continues to head-off potential international trade challenges to the beef industry, says the associate minister behind the bill.
Bill 22 would open up provincially-owned pasture land to out-of-province, but Canadian, producers among a raft of changes that span six ministries.
Grant Hunter, the associate minister of Red Tape Reduction, said the changes are aimed at increasing efficiency of public and business interaction with the government.
Specific to public lands, dropping residency requirements were outlined last fall when Premier Jason Kenney unilaterally said he would scrap some trade barriers within Canada.
Saskatchewan and British Columbia do not bar Albertans from leasing Crown land, and some Alberta leaseholder groups say they don’t foresee major disruption with the change in Alberta.
Hunter told the Alta Newspaper Group before the bill was tabled on June 11 that the measures to loosen residency requirements are part of a larger strategy to position the sector against trade disputes.
“We’re updating it and we’re updating fees to balance the need to be competitive,” said Hunter, MLA for Taber-Warner. The Agriculture Ministry would determine fees that do not require legislative changes.
“There has been some discussion about the U.S. putting tariffs on (Canadian) beef,” said Hunter. “Everyone has realized for some time that fees would be going up, and there’s a need to address that.”
In May, amid tension that food supply would strain under pandemic-buying demand, the U.S. federal administration mused that it might consider penalizing live animal imports.
That crisis seems to have passed, but U.S. cattlemen have persistently challenged trade agreements, like NAFTA, and the issue for beef seems to align with other high-profile disputes.
For decades, Canada and the U.S. have wrangled over soft-wood lumber, with American timber lobby groups arguing that the Canadian system of renting Crown land to companies and charging “stumpage” amounts to an unfair subsidy.
Grazing lease rates in Alberta are determined by calculating the land’s productivity, essentially its ability to provide sufficient feed for a certain number of cattle. Hunter said Alberta’s rates are still among the lowest in North America.
Last fall, tenure terms were extended by the province, but ranchers have been increasingly vocal that processing transfers is taking too long. Hunter said the issue is being addressed by the Agriculture Ministry.
Other changes announced in Bill 22 would allow the Surface Rights Advocate to rule on matters involving up to $50,000 in claims (up from $25,000, now) when petroleum companies and landowners cannot agree on issues of damage or non-payment.
That would mean fewer cases moving to courts for resolution, which Hunter called “onerous,” but more handled by the Surface Rights Board, which is already backlogged. Hunter said, like the lease transfer issue, administrators are attempting to work through a backlog of files.
The bill would also dissolve the Energy Efficiency Alberta agency and end the need for cabinet approval of oil sands projects, and changes rules about residency for directors of non-profits and corporations.
Some programs would continue under the recently formed Emissions Reduction Alberta, said officials, while oilsands approvals would now proceed fully by authority of the Alberta Energy Regulator.