The Act Respecting the Preservation of Agricultural Land and Agricultural Activities is a cornerstone piece of Québec legislation that governs land use and determines how the provincial government protects its farmland while helping to develop its agricultural activities and operations.
The agricultural land-management plan is designed to ensure the sustainability of our farmland stock while protecting and developing agricultural activities and businesses in the long term.
To protect farmland and prioritize agricultural activity, the Act regulates other activities. Thus, without the Commission’s authorization, the following activities are not allowed:
- Using a lot for non-agricultural purposes, such as residential, commercial, industrial or institutional (art. 26)
- Felling maples in a sugar bush, except for sylviculture activities like thinning, breeding or screening, and using a sugar bush for purposes other than producing maple syrup (art. 27)
- Subdividing or alienating part of a lot if one retains property rights on an adjoining or deemed-to-be adjoining lot (that is, under the Act, two lots separated by a public roadway, a railway, a public-utility right-of-way, or a section of a lot subjected to vested rights—art. 28)
- Alienating (selling or donating) a lot if the owner retains property rights on an adjoining or a deemed-to-be-adjoining lot (art. 29)
- Removing arable soil (art. 70).
The Act nonetheless allows for certain exceptions, specifically :
Individuals whose primary occupation is agriculture and who practise agriculture on the land they own can build on that land a personal residence for themselves, for their children or for their employees without the Commission’s authorization.
Agricultural corporations or businesses can also build a personal residence on the land they own for a shareholder or a member who practises agriculture as a primary occupation there. They can as well build a residence on this land for an employee performing agricultural work or activities (art. 40).
Individuals do not need Commission authorization to alienate (sell or donate) a section of land of at least 100 hectares if the remaining adjoining area that they retain ownership of also covers at least 100 hectares (art. 29.2).
Individuals do not need Commission authorization to build a residence on their property if the land in question is composed of adjoining vacant lots covering at least 100 hectares, that is, without any non-agricultural use. (art. 31.1)
The Act provides for various vested rights that affect a property and that can be transferred from one owner to the other. Thus, individuals do not need Commission authorization to alienate (sell or donate), subdivide and use for non-agriculture purposes a property that, when the Act began to apply to it:
was already being used clearly and legally for non-agriculture purposes (art. 101)
was already under a formal permit for non-agriculture use on the same date (e.g. valid construction permits or valid operating permits from the ministère de l’Environnement; art. 101)
was or became adjacent to a public roadway where sewer and public-water services were installed at the time under a municipal by-law approved under the Act (art. 105)
For the vested rights covered by the circumstances described in paragraphs a) and b), the area to which the rights apply can be enlarged to half a hectare (53,820 square feet) if it’s indeed smaller than that, if the owner held a larger area when the Act began to apply to it and if it was already under a permit authorizing its use for residential purposes. The area may be increased to one full hectare 107,640 square feet if its use or authorized use under the permit was for commercial, industrial or institutional purposes. (art. 103).
For the vested right described under paragraph c), the area exempt from the restrictions in the Act can be extended to a depth of 60 metres from the right of way of the public road in the case of a residential use, and to a depth of 120 metres from the right of way in the case of a commercial, industrial or institutional use (art. 105).
A residential-usage right or a vested right provided in paragraphs a) and b) above is extinguished if the parcel of land covered by that right is left uncropped for more than one year (articles 31 and 102).
As set out in the regulations stemming from the new provisions under the Act, individuals can carry out several actions without first obtaining an authorization from the Commission and without having to produce a declaration, specifically:
- expand a residential location built before the Act was adopted
- a 20-square-metre basic shelter in a wooded area covering at least 10 hectares
- sell distinct parcels of land to adjacent agricultural producers
- erect an advertising billboard
- through the ministère des Transports or a municipality, cede back to adjacent landowners an excess right-of-way.
These cases are in addition to circumstances under which a permit to remove arable soil is not required, for instance when the operator’s primary activity is horticulture. All these cases and the conditions governing them are described in the relevant regulations.