The wait for land titles is over, says Dale Nally, Minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction and MLA for Morinville — St. Albert.
On Monday Nally announced that the backlog in the Alberta land titles office has been cleared, and wait times to get land titles processed are back down to the usual 10-12 business days.
It’s a large improvement from last year when property owners were on hold for months — in some cases so long that buyers weren’t receiving tax notices.
In 2021 document submissions to the land titles department doubled “due to low interest rates, an increase in mortgage financing and a larger number of Albertans buying and selling properties,” Nally said at a press conference outside the land titles office in Edmonton.
The department, which relies on a lot of manual work, couldn’t cope with the surge.
“We couldn’t just press a button and scale up,” Nally told reporters. “We had to hire people in a market that’s tough to hire…. We had to come up with new ways of not just recruiting but new ways of training.”
The department more than doubled its workforce, hiring 100 new staff throughout 2022. It hired a number of temporary workers in addition to permanent staff.
Nally said it used to take up to 18 months to train staff entering the land titles department, but now it takes only three months.
Temporary staff hired to help clear the backlog have been transitioning to new departments, Nally said.
Now the province is investing $60 million over three years to digitize and automate the land titles system.
“We never want to put Albertans in this position again, because this is about jobs, and this is about investment, because you need to provide market certainty, and you can’t do that with manual processes that lack the ability to scale,” he said.
Documents will be processed within five days once the system is modernized, Nally said.
The volume of land titles being processed is 11 per cent above when they doubled two years ago, so many temporary workers have been retained. “We need them until we get automation up and running,” Nally said.
However, he said that the province “won’t subsidize the horse and buggy industry because it creates jobs,” if automation can do the work of current employees. Instead the province would seek to transition land titles employees into new roles.
Dr. Jason Foster, an associate professor of human resources and labour relations at Athabasca University, said he’s seen governments “go both ways” when it comes to retaining staff who could be displaced by technology.
“It’s hard to predict,” he said, and it depends on whether staff can be quickly trained for new roles.
As for whether automation will replace many jobs in the land titles office, Foster said it depends on what the government means by automation.
“It could just mean there will be more online portals for people to self serve,” he said. “That probably wouldn’t have a significant impact on employment…. I don’t think they’re talking about artificial intelligence, but if they're instituting something that can actually do some of the processing and decision making, then I think the impact would be significant.”
But Foster warned that a large body of research shows that any talk of restructuring or potential job losses harms worker morale.
It creates an environment of uncertainty that encourages workers to look for new jobs, causes anxiety and in some cases sparks trauma.
“At least a good chunk of those employees today are a lot more stressed than they were last week."