Changes to Parks and Public Land Legislation Threaten to Erode Important Protections

On April 25, 2022, the Government of Alberta passed the first reading of Bill 21: Red Tape Reduction Statutes Amendment Act, 2022. At first glance, the changes – which influence the Province’s ability to make regulations regarding parks and public lands – could be seen as relatively minor. However, CPAWS Southern and Northern Alberta are concerned this is yet another move intended to weaken protections for Alberta’s wild places.  

Should Bill 21 pass, documents, policies, and guidelines created by any user group, government agency, or external organization could be adopted as regulations in Provincial Parks. This change would eliminate the standard drafting process for Crown land regulations and potentially result in the accelerated adoption of poorly written and under-reviewed policies. Such policies, in turn, could lead to land-use management practices that do not represent the interests or desires of Albertan parks and public land users. In short, these changes reduce government accountability and transparency in the name of convenience and expediency.

Rather than streamlining and clarifying rules in parks and public lands, this ‘red tape reduction’ Bill’s proposed changes to the Provincial Parks Act and the Public Lands Act create disarray, obfuscating the rules and preventing them from being applied fairly and consistently to all users across Crown lands. Moreover, without any public consultation, the Minister will be able to create area-specific rules, which may conflict with overarching management approaches, as well as the intent of existing protections for parks and public lands. Many of these existing protections have been put in place to conserve the wild spaces and species that Albertans love.

Of note, Alberta’s Crown Land Vision, which was released in November of 2020, stated that:

The province has a well-established system for allowing for use of Crown lands, including tools such as leases and other authorizations and approvals. Alberta’s government understands how much Albertans appreciate that system, so we will make it simpler and more efficient. We have heard from Albertans that the system can be complicated and confusing. They’ve asked us to untangle the many classifications, rules, and regulations so they’re easier to understand.

Alberta’s Crown Land Vision

Bill 21 appears to directly contradict this vision by creating a more complex and less efficient system, which makes understanding the rules and regulations much tougher.

Applying different – and potentially divergent – rules and regulations to individual parks or public lands is, ironically, at odds with the titular intention of reducing red tape and will serve only to increase confusion for those wanting to access, and recreate in, these areas responsibly. What’s more, by removing guidance for both individuals and businesses, Bill 21 threatens to endanger our public lands – and removes the forum for in-depth discussion that could mitigate that endangerment.

After the Optimizing Alberta Parks plan – which set out to remove protections from parks in 2020 – the current Provincial Government still has a long way to go in rebuilding trust with Albertans when it comes to our parks and public lands. CPAWS Southern and Northern Alberta have significant and ongoing concerns regarding the erosion of our protected areas system in Alberta – and if this Bill is to move forward, we strongly recommend that all proposed changes be subject to a comprehensive and transparent public consultation before adoption.

Considerations as we move forward:

  1. The current trend of centralizing the executive power of Ministers for the purported purpose of ‘red tape reduction’ is deeply concerning.
  2. We firmly believe that more avenues and opportunities for public feedback are needed on any new additions or alterations to the regulations that are adopted through this new process.
  3. We would like to see greater clarity on or an expanded explanation as to how the government envisions using these new powers, and why they are needed. We would especially be interested in the rationale for how eliminating the need for businesses and recreationalists to “comply with restrictive or onerous requirements where such requirements are not necessary” could be beneficial.
  4. An explanation of the vetting process for externally adopted policies, guidelines, practices and codes is required to understand how these documents will be scrutinized prior to adoption by regulation.

For more information, please contact:

Chris Smith
Conservation Analyst, CPAWS Northern Alberta