Saskatchewan, Canada, June 28, 2004: Provincial
and state governments across North America are contemplating
and sometimes passing legislation that restricts the ability
of lower governments to make land use decisions. In Wisconsin,
for example, the state legislature has introduced the Livestock
Facility Siting Bill. Under this bill, the state Department
of Agriculture would write rules for siting and expanding
livestock facilities. A village, town or county would then
have to use those rules. Local governments also would be barred
from stopping large facilities, except in special circumstances.
In Wisconsin, as in many rural areas of North America, controversy
has arisen over the construction of intensive livestock facilities,
including mega-dairies, feedlots and hog barns. In response
to pressure from rural residents, local governments have sometimes
used their land-use bylaws to prohibit, or to impose rules
and regulations on intensive livestock facilities. The new
act would create a standard set of rules that local governments
would be forced to use.
Similar battles and similar laws are happening in Canadian
provinces. Manitoba recently introduced Bill 40, a bill to
amend the Manitoba Planning Act. The bill, according to the
government, is intended to provide "consistency to land
use decisions". Like the Wisconsin legislation, it would
reduce the powers of municipal governments over intensive
livestock operations (ILOs).
Critics have lined up on both sides of the bill. The National
Farmers Union maintains that local governments should have
ultimate authority in matters around siting. It claims the
new rules will prevent municipal councils from regulating
"matters concerning the use, application and storage
of manure". The NFU says it would also "open up
local governments to lawsuits if a corporation felt they were
inappropriately applying such rules".
Manitoba Pork, on the other hand, claims the "government
only went half way in introducing provincial standards in
guiding local land use decision-making. This simply invites
further inconsistencies between neighboring rural municipalities."
Saskatchewan's Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM)
recently set up a committee "to identify impediments
to rural economic development within the existing municipal
structure, legislation or policy and to make recommendations
for change." According to SARM President Neal Hardy,
"Our goal is to create a regulatory environment that
doesn’t hinder economic development in rural Saskatchewan."
If the committee report finds areas where change is necessary,
the logical outcome would be provincial legislation that forces
some uniformity of regulations on municipalities.
It's obvious there are conflicts between the way different
levels of government see their responsibilities. Municipal
governments, by their nature, allow local input into decisions
that have large local impacts. Provincial and state governments
like to think they represent the broader and more objective
view. There is a degree of truth in both sides, and a degree
For example, in the case of intensive livestock operations,
municipalities may be lobbied hard by residents over decisions
to allow an ILO to build in their jurisdiction. Provincial
governments, in turn, may be pressured by corporations to
override the authority of municipalities on the grounds that
they are too close to the situation to be objective. While
provinces may see the benefits of economic developments, they
are less concerned about the drawbacks.
Saskatchewan's rural municipalities have long defended their
right to be sovereign in their own territory, so any changes
that affect their powers could be a hard sell. Nevertheless,
some of the municipalities are so small that the criticism
they can’t be objective may be correct. If the province's
solution to that problem is to take away some municipal powers,
it should be asked if the solution is the right one. If RMs
are too small to exercise their authority appropriately, you
can either take away their power or change their structure.
Given the track record of Saskatchewan's RMs, the former might
be less difficult. However, the latter would leave more power
at the local level.
ILOs will always be controversial, for many reasons. One
of the reasons is that governments have failed to properly
address the problems they create. As citizens, we sometimes
have to accept some inconvenience for the greater good. If
I live in northeast Regina, the smell of the oil refinery
and the occasional bit of ash raining from the sky affect
my quality of life. The refinery is also a huge economic driver
in the city's economy. But if the paint on my car is ruined
by the particles from the sky, my government auto insurance
will pay me. The larger society bears some of the cost.
If a hog barn is built next to my farm and affects my quality
of life and property value, I can't go to Saskatchewan Government
Insurance and be compensated. I can't go anywhere because
government legislation protects the hog barn.
If governments would address this issue of liability, some
of the opposition to ILOs would decline. To date, governments
across North America have chosen denial as the major means
of dealing with it. Municipal governments then sometimes take
the cautious approach of protecting residents from the problems
in the first place. The province or state responds by taking
away municipal powers. There has to be a better way.
One plus for SARM's committee is that it proposes to take
the bull by the horns before the province does. Now, it needs
to listen to both sides of the arguments, not just the side
with the money, or the side only seeking to protect its turf.
© Paul Beingessner, email@example.com
. The author is a columnist, transportation consultant and
third-generation farmer in Truax, Saskatchewan.