Who rules the roost, when it comes to the use and development of land owned by the Province and crown agents? The Province, or municipalities?
Section 14(1) of the Interpretation Act makes the government subject to legislative enactments, unless the enactments provide to the contrary. Section 14(2) of the Interpretation Act states that “an enactment that would bind or affect the government in the use or development of land or in the planning, construction, alteration, servicing, maintenance or use of improvements, as defined in the Assessment Act, does not bind or affect the government.”
So, the answer is: The Province and crown agents rule the roost, if they want to, based on section 14(2) of the Interpretation Act.
Back in 1974, this debate took place in the BC legislature:
“Mr. Wallace: Mr. Chairman, section [now 14(2) of the Interpretation Act] seems to me to be the most devastating part of this whole bill. I would like to know whether I read the section [14(2)] correctly, but anyone reading plain English would gather from section [14(2)] that, in fact, the government of this province is excluding itself completely and totally from any obligation to meet all the very important and serious pieces of legislation we’ve put through this House in relation to the use and development of land. … This section, Mr. Chairman, seems to exclude this government completely from all the provisions, for example, of Bill 42. The general, wide language which is used in [section 14(2)] would seem to me to make a mockery of all the municipal legislation we have in this province. As I read section [14(2)] it would give this government the power to completely ignore or overrule any piece of municipal legislation in any of our municipalities, regarding the use or development of land. The planning, construction, alteration, servicing, maintenance or use of improvements, as found in the Assessment Act, do not bind or affect the Crown. &hellipNow I understand that already this kind of provision is enjoyed – if that is the word – by B.C. Hydro, and that there are many painful experiences where B.C. Hydro goes its own way in contradiction and against the wishes of municipalities simply because this power is already extended to that particular Crown corporation. Now it would seem to me that in section [14(2)] we are facing a situation where the door is &hellip I wouldn’t even say the door is open wide; the door is taken away. There is absolutely no impediment whatever, if we pass section [14(2)], to prevent the government, through any of his departments or Crown corporations or Ministers or commissions, doing exactly as it pleases with land and improvements. …
Hon. Mr. Hall: Mr. Chairman, I want to make just one simple statement about this section – which is all that is required. This section puts the government in exactly the same position that the previous government was in … – exactly the same position that this government was in in 1972, exactly the same position that this government was in in 1973, exactly the same position the government was in until the passage of the Statute Law Amendment Act in the spring session of this year … The things that you said are available to this government have been available to the government of British Columbia for at least the last 20 years. What we are doing is saying that in this section those powers should be restored to the Crown.”
Section 14(2) of the Interpretation Act survived this debate, and remains in force today. So, because British Columbia Transit is an “agent of the Crown”, when Skytrain was being constructed through multiple municipalities, the GVTA did not have to get building permits in multiple municipalities or hold public hearings for zoning approvals in multiple municipalities. And when British Columbia Buildings Corporation wants to develop a new building in the City of Vancouver (for example, the Law Courts in the 70’s), they don’t need to get a City building permit.
As an incidental benefit, they don’t have to pay development cost charges either, if they don’t want to. Development cost charges are triggered by applying for a building permit. If you don’t apply for a building permit (’cause you don’t have to), then you don’t have to pay development cost charges either, unless you chose to do so voluntarily.
Why is this of interest to our readers? Well, as many of you know, pursuant to section 50 of the College and Institute Act, colleges and institutes are “agents of the Crown”, and pursuant to section 3 of the University Foundation Act, the foundations for the universities (The UBC Foundation, SFU Foundation, Foundation for UVic, UNBC Foundation and Royal Roads University Foundation) are also “agents of the Crown”.
Gets you thinking, doesn’t it?
It’s one thing to voluntarily comply with reasonable requirements administered by a local government. It’s another thing when local governments attempt to command requirements that are onerous and overreaching (which, in my experience, they are not shy about doing, now and again). Within municipalities, there is a pervasive expectation that everyone dealing with them will just accept that “you can’t fight City hall”, and will do as they command. Most private developers have no choice but to labour under this regime. Crown agents don’t have to.
As everyone knows, Municipalities often exact a pound of flesh from private owner and developers – effectively saying “you can’t get your development permit unless you” dedicate open space, or build a daycare, or build rental housing, or widen the street, or, in the building we work in (HSBC Bank Building, Hornby and Georgia, Vancouver), construct an atrium with a swinging pendulum to host a prescribed number of art exhibits and other public events throughout the year. We all enjoy the benefits of these amenities, and I appreciate the good that local governments do – but, when it comes to crown land and crown agents, it is a matter of who assigns the priorities. If left to the local governments, we might get more swinging pendulums and less college classrooms or student residences. When the legislature gave municipalities the power to regulate land use and development, through section 14(2) of the Interpretation Act, they (for good reason, I would say) reserved to the Province and crown agents the right to regulate themselves.