Casual Legal: Ensuring tribunal decisions address key issues

By Breanne Schwanak
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider

A recent Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decision highlights the importance of a tribunal ensuring its decisions clearly consider and address the key issues before it.

In this case, the applicant challenged a decision of the Local Assessment Review Board (“LARB”) related to a property tax assessment by the municipality. The applicant argued that most of property should be assessed as farmland since horses had historically grazed and continued to graze on the property on a seasonal basis, and the entire property was used for riding, exercise and grazing of horses and was linked to larger farming operations at other locations.

Among other things, the applicant alleged that, in issuing its decision, the LARB failed to address the main issue before it – being the interpretation of “farming operations” in the Matters Related to Assessment and Taxation Regulation and whether the evidence supported that farming operations were occurring on the property.

Upon review, the Court agreed that the hearing before the LARB focused on whether the property should properly be assessed as farmland. The Court noted the fact this was the main issue was reflected both in the decision of the LARB, and in the positions presented by both parties. The Court specifically noted that evidence was tendered by both parties which would have allowed the LARB to consider, weigh and then assess whether the lands were being used for farming operations.

Apart from the summary of the parties’ positions, the LARB’s decision did not provide any reasoning or analysis regarding the interpretation of “farmland”, or the evidence that was presented by both parties. The Court acknowledged that the LARB may not be legally trained, and that it is not required to “rigorously analyze existing jurisprudence”. The Court also acknowledged the large volume of complaints received by the LARB and the short time frame for complaint hearings. However, the Court held that the LARB’s failure to “grapple with the key issue” of whether the evidence met the test for farming operations rendered the LARB’s decision unreasonable.

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.