BILL 29 (ALBERTA PARKS ACT) REFLECTS A STEP BACKWARD IN GOOD PARK GOVERNANCE
Edmonton, AB, 17 November 2010 – ”It’s an unfortunate and reversible trend,” says Jason Unger, Staff Counsel at the Environmental Law Centre in Edmonton. “We have legislation now that sets specific prohibitions in some of our protected areas and Bill 29 will nullify that.” The Bill (Alberta Parks Act) makes protected areas, most notably ecological reserves and wilderness areas, into Provincial Parks and relies on zoning to govern activities in the parks. Zoning is dealt with completely in regulations. The creation of regulations typically occurs in the black box of government and is not debated in the legislature.
The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) sees a trend towards removal of standards and prohibitions from our laws and heavy reliance on government discretion to make regulations. Earlier in the year the federal environmental assessment process was similarly “tweaked” to allow the Minister to minimize the scope of environmental assessments. “This reflects a watering down of good governance,” notes Unger. “With discretion ruling the day, governments are no longer held accountable to specific legislative mandates and standards.”
Other legal professionals see similar problems with the Bill. Professor Shaun Fluker of the Law Faculty at the University of Calgary notes: “Delegating essentially all park governance to Cabinet or the Minister offends the basic principle that the legislature speaks via enactments passed in the legislative process. I would give the Bill a failing grade for purporting to legislate Alberta’s parks system without containing any statutory rules on allowable or prohibited activity in those parks.”
The Environmental Law Centre would like to see some major amendments to the Bill prior to it being passed.
A list of commonly asked questions and answers about Bill 29 is available on the ELC website at http://elc.ab.ca/Content_Files/Files/FAQBill29AlbertaParksAct.pdf.
About the ELC: The ELC’s vision is a clean, healthy and diverse environment protected through informed citizen participation and sound law and policy, effectively applied. Its mission is to ensure that laws, policies and legal processes protect the environment.
Environmental Law Centre
Faculty of Law
University of Calgary