Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lots to Applaud in the Alberta Land Use Framework

The Alberta Land Use Framework is one of the most important and eagerly anticipated public policy initiatives in Alberta in a long time. OK maybe saying it has been eagerly anticipated is a stretch for most Albertans but it is true for those of us who live in the public policy and political world.

I was involved in the early stages of the process and even had a small hand in some of the process design and participated in some of the stakeholder consultations and workshops and did some briefings for senior officials on the outcomes of the discrete choice modeling values based research we did on forestry stewardship and oil sands development. That involvement adds to my sense of anticipation obviously. I have not had the time to read the document in detail but let me share some initial impressions.

This document is a thoughtful response to growth pressures in Alberta. Don’t be na├»ve. It will have an impact on the pace of growth and even the purpose and place of growth in some instances. It is going to be an effective “touching of the brakes.” Be careful how you interpret that comment. Touching the brakes tends to slow things down. You have to “hit the brakes” to stop things. This is not about hitting the brakes but it is definitely going to have the effect of touching them. This slowing down of the pace of growth will give us time to get growth right instead of rapid as has been the case so far.

This document has been a long time coming and for good reason. It is the result of a comprehensive and intensive series of explorations and consultations and activist citizen engagement. It is the product of an intelligent policy design process. The last time complex and intricate policy was developed in such a positive way was the Water for Life Strategy. That policy was left unfunded so it has not lived up to its promise – at least not yet but I am hopeful that will change as it integrates with the Land Use Framework policy.

The brilliant move in the Land Use Framework is tying land use to water use as the defining element in regional planning. If the water capacity can’t sustain a land use development – it should not happen. There limits to our ecological capacity for growth that are atmospheric (GHG) water and land use. There is a focus on cumulative impacts now and not each project being looked at on its own “merits.” The integration of land, air and water, with cumulative impacts, consideration of habitat, fragmentation, urban sprawl and a host of other growth pressure elements will all come into play now. This means there will not be a one-size-to-fit-all approach going forward. More design intelligence is obviously at work here in this document.

This auger well for us now avoiding turning the entire province in to the same mess we created in Fort McMurray caused by delays and the disasters due to the personal political agendas of incompetent and neglectful former key Ministers who are no longer around.

The other really reassuring strategy in the Land Use Framework is the commitment to develop a conservation and stewardship ethos on public and private lands. This issue, especially around preserving and protecting wildlife habitat has shown up as top of mind for Albertans in our research but had not registered in the political agendas of the province – until now.
Congratulations Dr. Morton for making these policy considerations central to our land use ethic going forward.

There is a lot more meat in this document and policy process that I will have to read and reflect on before I comment further. I see this as a great day for Alberta with the release of this draft. It impacts every one of us and ought to be as catalytic for public engagement as the Hunter Royalty Review Panel document was last fall. Now the real work begins!