As 2020 wound to a close, the Alberta Government passed Bill 48, the Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act, 2020 (No. 2). As the name suggests, this is an omnibus bill which represents the second major legislative step in this Government's stated plan to reduce "red tape" by as much as one third. Most of the Bill's provisions will take effect in early June of 2021.
Bill 48 updates or repeals 12 different pieces of legislation. Most of these changes simply eliminate provisions which were identified as redundant or outdated. However, there are some important changes which will be of particular interest to homebuilders and owners, and to developers and municipalities.
Introducing the Land and Property Rights Tribunal Act
Most significantly, Bill 48 will amalgamate the operation of four existing quasi-judicial boards into a single agency. Currently:
- the Municipal Government Board makes decisions about land planning and assessment matters, subdivision appeals, inter-municipal disputes and annexation recommendations;
- the New Home Buyer Protection Board hears appeals of the Registrar's decision to refuse, suspend, or impose conditions on residential builders' licenses, as well as appeals of compliance orders and administrative penalties issued under the New Home Buyer Protection Act;
- the Land Compensation Board conducts dispute resolution proceedings and hearings to determine compensation for landowners and tenants impacted by the expropriation of land; and
- the Surface Rights Board assists landowners, occupants and operators to resolve surface access and compensation disputes.
Through the enactment of the Land and Property Rights Tribunal Act, the mandates of each of these boards will be merged and heard by a single tribunal: the Land and Property Rights Tribunal. Notionally, this amalgamation will allow the boards (some of which already share office space and directors) to enjoy further cost-sharing benefits.
The rules of procedure and practice of the former boards will continue until repealed, amended or replaced by the new Tribunal.1 Any proceeding commenced and not concluded before the coming into force of the new Land and Property Rights Tribunal Act will continue to be heard under the current legislation.2
The amalgamation will not include the Public Lands Appeal Board or the Environmental Appeals Board, which together already share some staff and resources.
For an overview of recent activities at the PLAB, consider registering for our upcoming webinar, " Public Lands Appeal Board: 2020 A Year in Review".
Changes to the Municipal Government Act ("MGA")
Bill 48 includes numerous revisions to the MGA. Of particular interest is the decision to eliminate larger municipalities' discretion to set their own timelines for processing subdivision and development applications.3 Municipalities larger than 15,000 citizens will now be required to process applications for subdivision and development permits within the timelines prescribed in the MGA, regardless of their bylaws. That is:
- 20 days to determine whether a development permit application is complete;
- 40 days to approve or deny it; and
- no more than 60 days (in total) to approve or deny an application from the time it was received.
Municipal discretion is further curtailed by the striking out of s. 668 of the MGA, in its entirety. Historically, s. 668 has offered municipalities the opportunity to take more than 10% reserve land for municipal and school purposes (for things like parks, playgrounds, fire halls, EMS stations, and schools) where the density of a subdivision is anticipated to exceed 30 dwelling units or more per hectare. Municipalities will no longer have this option.
The Government intends for these changes to give certainty to developers, which in turn, is supposed to be good for business. However, critics note that the changes do not eliminate all uncertainties. For example, developers must still be alert to the possibility that a municipality may require additional land to be set aside as an "environmental" or "conservation" reserve.4
In a recent statement, Rural Municipalities of Alberta, an association comprising Alberta's 69 counties and municipal districts, expressed the following concerns about the upcoming revisions to the MGA:
Bill 48 proposes reductions in municipal autonomy based on limited evidence from the development industry that the changes will have a meaningful impact in reducing red tape or supporting economic growth and job creation. In general, RMA supports thoughtful and measured red tape reduction initiatives if they are based on evidence-supported concerns with current legislation and processes. However, the concept of "red tape reduction" cannot be used as a catch-all to justify reducing municipal authority over land use planning and other areas without understanding the potential benefits and consequences of such a reduction.
Further "red tape reduction" changes to the MGA include:
- administrative changes around the calculation and appeal of off-site levies; and
- changes in the way parties may appeal certain development decisions where the land is provincially regulated.
Changes to the Land Titles Act
Bill 48 also amends the Land Titles Act to create a "pending registration" queue.5 Under the new process, a party will be able to address any deficiencies in their application without moving to the back of the queue. This, combined with the recent roll-out of Alberta Land Titles Online ("ALTO") should decrease costs associated with reviewing, revising and resubmitting documents to Alberta's Land Titles Registry.
1 S. 21(b)
2 S. 21(c)
3 S. 640.1 of the MGA will be repealed.
4 provided the requirements in ss. 664.1 or 664.2 of the MGA are met
5 s. 14.1
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