Voices are being raised more and more in Quebec to demand a reform of the Expropriation Act, whose fiscal composition hinders too many municipalities in the acquisition of land. The Legault government also says it is willing to “find solutions”.
“What we are asking for is to modify the law so that land can be acquired at fair market value, by reviewing what is called compensation to the owner. Historically, this compensation is quite high and takes into account the income that an owner could generate if he kept the land. But the reality has changed today,” says the executive coordinator at the Montreal Metropolitan Community, Stéphane Pineault.
The latter asserts that this compensation should be “limited to the strict minimum, if not eliminated” to allow cities to pursue their development objectives. “We must better determine the market value of land if we want to acquire more natural environments, protect them and possibly enhance them,” he argues.
“Right now, the big end of the stick, if not the whole stick, is in the hands of the owner who is being expropriated. Compensation is not regulated. Even the sentimental value of a piece of land can be taken into account, which is extremely complicated to calculate,” says the policy adviser at the Union of Quebec Municipalities (UMQ), Jean-François Sabourin.
Fixing the potential of a building “at the time of expropriation” and defining “clearly” the elements that can be compensated would be the first steps in a possible reform, according to him. “It would really change the game to be able to budget for acquisitions, to tell the population: here is where we are going and when. At the moment, cities are stepping back so as not to engage in contentious processes that last for years with owners,” observes Mr. Sabourin.
The two officials point out that other Canadian provinces already have a policy setting out much more precisely the compensation paid to the owner during expropriations.
“In Quebec, there are lands that we would like to protect in Mirabel, Saint-Bruno, Mascouche, Candiac. But the law limits us,” says the UMQ adviser.
A group stomps in Candiac
South of Montreal, in Candiac, a group of residents also deplores that the current formula of the Expropriation Act hinders the authorities in their desire to preserve the former golf course of the municipality, which is 5.6 million square feet, in the heart of the city.
Last August, Mayor Normand Dyotte, re-elected with a strong majority in the most recent election, confirmed his intention to acquire the golf course to transform it into a park. But in December, the City and many citizens were “surprised by a dramatic turn of events,” said spokesperson for the Regroupement des habitants de Candiac, Yves Couturier.
Rather than conclude the agreement with the City, the owner decided to sell the land to Groupe Boda, a consortium of Chinese investors known in Montérégie, for the sum of 22 million. “This speculation means that the City will now have to pay a higher price for the purchase of the land during a possible negotiation by mutual agreement,” says Mr. Couturier.
We’re all stuck. The City wants to buy the land, it even made an agreement with the previous developer, but it was he who sold it to this other developer. This one-upmanship is putting enormous pressure on cities right now.
Yves Couturier, spokesperson for the Candiac Residents Association
Allowing cities to acquire land according to “their fair market value, and not according to the principle of value to the owner”, would precisely make it possible to control this speculation, according to the spokesperson. “We have been campaigning for the preservation of this land since 2015. It is time for that to change,” concludes Yves Couturier.
Quebec in evaluation
In the office of the Minister of Transport, François Bonnardel – who is responsible for applying the Expropriation Act –, we say we are “aware of the requests made by the municipalities”, which have already been mentioned during the consultations on the signing of the last fiscal pact.
“We are continuing our work and we are evaluating the scope that the desired legislative changes could take. We will continue to work with the municipalities to find solutions”, indicates to The Press the minister’s press attaché, Claudia Loupret.
According to our information, a multi-ministerial government committee is currently looking into the question of reforming the law. Recommendations could be made to the government soon.
- 20 millions
- In September, real estate developers who claimed $ 20 million for “disguised expropriation” of their land sheltering wetlands in Saint-Bruno were dismissed in court, in a judgment described as “decisive moment”.
source: Superior Court of Quebec