The Conservative government passed a controversial land assembly bill Wednesday, voting down a last-ditch amendment by the opposition Liberals that would have killed it.
The Tories gave third reading to the Land Assembly Project Area Act, paving the way to implement the law that critics have called "draconian" and an abuse of landowner rights.
"This bill has had a very thorough airing in this chamber," Calgary Nosehill Tory MLA Neil Brown said before he voted against the Liberal amendment. "In the last four years since I have been elected to the House I can't remember too many bills that have been discussed at further length than Bill 19. I think it's time to move on and pass this bill on third reading."
The move was immediately slammed by members of some of the 30 organizations -- from farm groups to environmental groups -- that have vocally opposed it.
Jan Slomp of the National Farmers Union said he fears the new law, which he says gives too much power to the infrastructure minister, could be used to acquire land for everything from nuclear power plants to toxic waste dumps.
"This bill clearly means that the minister can do whatever he pleases," said Slomp, who has a dairy farm west of Rimbey.
He said landowners are planning to band together to challenge the bill under the Canadian Charter of Rights when the government attempts to use it.
Infrastructure Minister Jack Hayden has maintained the bill doesn't give the government any extra powers and landowners will be treated fairly. He says the law is intended to acquire land for public projects such as ring roads and reservoirs, but his opponents say they don't believe him.
Liberal Bridget Pastoor told the legislature the issue has caused some to mistrust the government.
"They think the government is wrong. To say they don't trust them is pretty scary."
Other critics said they feel betrayed by Premier Ed Stelmach, a farmer they expected to have their interests at heart. "It's sad, I tell you," says Karl Zajes, who farms near Warburg. "When he became premier I thought we would have somebody who would represent landowners. I would vote for a frozen lump of horse (crap) before I would vote for this government."
Aside from the authority the act gives the minister to issue enforcement orders and the inability for landowners to appeal some of those orders, opposition parties say the act enables the government to tie up land indefinitely without compensation. They also complain the government won't make public the regulations that will accompany the bill.
NDP MLA Rachel Notley applauded the government for making amendments to the bill to try to quell a storm of rural protest, but she said most were simply "window-dressing and didn't address the concerns raised by Albertans."