By Chris Vander Doelen, Windsor Star
Premier Dalton McGuinty might not be facing an Ontario-wide uprising against his plan to dot the countryside with wind turbines if Canadians had normal property rights.
We have nominal property rights, as mentioned in passing in our 1960 Bill of Rights. But they are not in our Constitution of 1982 and not enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so they aren’t backed by any real legal clout.
Had we had that protection when McGuinty first floated his so-called green energy plan, some landowners may have been able to prevent his government from vandalizing vast swaths of the beautiful Lake Erie shore with hundreds of the giant machines.
Instead, thanks to the legal vacuum, McGuinty’s Liberals were able to run roughshod over rural voters and other potential dissenters by removing the turbine plans from municipal planning control. After that, nobody was able to cite any other law capable of blocking the Liberal green scheme. The turbine juggernaut was on its way.
That’s just a recent example of why a growing number of Canadians politicians believe it is time to correct our lack of property rights, the most glaring flaw in the charter.
Today, two of those people -Scott Reid and Randy Hillier, respectively the MP and MPP for the rural Ontario riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington -intend to present resolutions in the House of Commons and the legislature of Ontario to amend the charter to fix the flaw.
“This is the first step towards real guarantees for property owners in Ontario,” Hillier says on his website. Because unlike other industrialized countries, “Canada’s Constitution contains no provision guaranteeing security or safety of property. This leaves Canadian citizens with no constitutional protection from seizure of property or unjust treatment,” the two say in a joint statement.
The resolutions are not a new idea. The last amendment attempt was in 2007. But it is new to submit resolutions at both the federal and provincial legislatures at the same time. (Reid is a Conservative, Hillier a Progressive Conservative, so they’re both Tories).
But this is the first time anyone has tried a “Section 43” amendment, which would create property rights in Ontario only. “It’s been received very well right across the province,” Hillier told me Wednesday. If his amendment is successful, “we may get the other provinces to follow,” creating property rights across the country.
A groundswell of support for property rights seems to be building. In Alberta, the Wild Rose Party has adopted property rights as policy, and it stands a very good chance of defeating the Conservatives to form the next Alberta government this fall.
Demand for the amendment is rising in British Columbia, and Saskatchewan -which is ironic, since Saskatchewan helped block the inclusion of those rights in 1982.
Along with Quebec and P.E.I., Saskatchewan balked when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau tried to include property rights in the Charter because they would have interfered with their expropriation of resources and foreign ownership rules.
So with one of PET’s famous shrugs, the PM tossed out the property rights clause and moved on, rather than waste valuable time trying to negotiate the perfect Charter.
In order for the proposed amendment to become national law now, it must be passed by at least seven of the 10 provinces representing more than 50 per cent of Canada’s population.
Why do we need the amendment? Property rights are the foundation of nearly all other liberties, and without them, the other rights aren’t worth much.
Yet the right to hold and enjoy property is often the first liberty to be sacrificed when a bullheaded government decides to steamroller inconvenient critics.
In Ontario, Hillier says, that usually means designating private property for public purposes. Wind turbines, for instance.
Among the 49 other separate designations that Ontario can arbitrarily impose are status as wetlands, valley lands, wild life habitat, aggregate lands, plant corridors, and Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest.
Each designation can destroy property values overnight, and they usually take place without any notification of the landowner, much less compensation.
Real property rights would protect homeowners, farmers, investors -even natives on reserves.
Of course, there will be opposition, Hillier predicts.
Some groups never like it when individuals are given power to resist the state.
Debating these rights during Ontario, B.C. and Alberta provincial elections this fall -and the federal contest, whenever it is -should provide yet another stark illustration of which candidates are on our side, and which ones always seem to side with government against the individual.