With "Property Rights" Advocates Like These, Who Needs Tyrants?
April 15, 2008 by Paul McKeever
In recent years, a group of land owners (mostly farmers) in Ontario, Canada has – largely under the former leadership of an electrician named Randy Hillier – become a voice deemed by the media to be worthy of news coverage. On the surface, the Ontario Landowners Association appears to be in favour of government ceasing to violate their property rights. Their signs – which can be seen all over the Ontario countryside, posted to farm fences, particularly in Eastern Ontario – read: “This is our land. STOP. BACK OFF GOVERNMENT”.
Former OLA chief Randy Hillier wearing
a tee-shirt version of the sign found
on many farm properties in Ontario.
Approximately a year ago, Hillier resigned from the management of the OLA and used his popularity among members and supporters to win himself the nomination of the Progressive Conservative (PC) party in Ontario. Many advocates of property rights were perplexed by the move, given that the PC party historically (but with the brief exception of the leadership of Mike Harris) has been Ontario’s most substantively socialist/collectivist party. It introduced the Human Rights Code, rent controls, and the provincial income tax; it banned private health insurance and set up a tax-funded government monopoly on health insurance, etc.. Rather than conclude that Hillier has given up on advocating property rights, it would appear more accurate to conclude that Hillier’s expectations are merely naive, and that he believes he can (presumably with some ongoing assistance by the OLA) transform the “red tory” PC party into a party that is in favour of government that defends rather than violates, property rights.
That he is likely to fail in his effort to turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse becomes even more obvious when one considers the decidedly mixed bag of political wants held by members of the OLA. At times, the mutually exclusive nature of these wants has become high-profile. For example, when the OLA clogged the traffic arteries of Toronto’s core at and around the Ontario legislature, the media did live radio interviews with the many people driving their tractors to the event. There were indeed some libertarian-sounding property-rights advocates among those interviewed, but such members were decidedly mixed with farmers that wanted something akin to tax-funded subsidies for failing agricultural ventures, etc. (Interesting aside: the effort to get headlines by creating a traffic jam and storming the legislature grounds with tractors got overshadowed in two ways: 1. a competing farmer association [probably supportive of the governing Liberal party] pulled the exact same stunt one week earlier, and 2. when the OLA did it, a man pulled up in a truck, babbled incoherently, poured gasoline on himself, and lit himself on fire…guess which story got the bigger headline? It makes one wonder how many “Thank-you” and “Job Well Done” cards the man received from the Liberals).
All of which brings us to the news today that the OLA is – loudly, and with a press release – threatening to “clear cut” 100 square kilometers of wooded land in Eastern Ontario. According to today’s pre-fab report by the Canadian Press (you know the sort: printed in newspapers of every stripe; just add a headline, print it in your newspaper, and pretend that you are still a source of news), the threatened clear cutting relates to a law which violates property rights so as to protect endangered species:
If an endangered bird is found on someone’s property, [the OLA's Jack] MacLaren says their property values plummet and they can no longer use part of the land for farming.
“Ah”, you might infer, “the OLA is objecting to the endangered species legislation, saying that it violates their property rights”. Well, sadly, no. The Canadian Press explains that:
[McLaren] says that’s not fair because the government doesn’t offer to compensate those landowners.
Might I suggest changing the OLA’s sign a bit: “This land is our land. STOP. Back off government...unless you come with gifts of money taken forcibly from other people“.
This is yet another example of people wanting “freedom for me, but not for thee”, and it all results from wanting freedom for the wrong reasons. The rightness of defending ones control over ones own land is properly founded on the necessity of that control if one is to use the land in accordance with ones own rational decisions about its use. In other words: property makes it possible for one to live a rational (hence productive and happy) life. Asking for “compensation” from the government in exchange for the violation of ones own property is not a call for freedom. It is a call to push the costs of tyranny onto someone else’s shoulders. It is not a defence of property: it is a call to tax others and hand the loot over to landowners; it is a call to violate other peoples property; it is a sanctioning of government violations of property; it is a call for the government to protect landowners from the effects of tyranny, by imposing additional tyranny other others.
If the OLA is successful in their bid to loot other Ontarians, one can only hope that they spend a few bucks on a copy of Atlas Shrugged (and that they actually read it), so that they can realize, before it is too late, just how badly they are defeating their stated goal.