Regulatory burden undermining land value, impeding prosperity in Ontario

Published in Sept. 14, 2012

When the New World was discovered, it was called “The Land of Opportunity”; and not without a reason either.

The British Colonies of the New World were the first place where any peasant, any serf or indentured servant could hope to one day own property. Those new immigrants to the “Land of Property” were free for the first time to live their lives as they wanted. They were free to work and succeed and rise above their lack of opportunity.

And succeed they did. They combined their labour and their minds with the land. They built houses, reaped the crops that they sowed and developed the vast and vacant North American landscape.

Despite the facts and evidence that “property is inextricably linked with civilization”, our right to use and enjoy our property is under threat from excessive and intrusive regulations. The unseen consequences of many of these suffocating interventions are the loss of property and prosperity.

Legislation like the Greenbelt Act, the Places to Grow Act and many, many others have closed off nearly 90% of all aggregates – stone, dust and gravel – from extraction for sale or use. Companies and individuals who own these lands are unable to use their property. As unfortunate as it is for the property owners, we too suffer unseen consequences. With an increasing demand and a reduced supply of aggregates, this legislation drives up the cost of the public’s cost for concrete, roads, bridges and buildings.

The same is happening to our forested lands, our minerals, gold and diamonds. The Government of Ontario recently declared a quarter of a million square kilometers of resources rich Northern Ontario off limits from any development. Economic opportunity is banned; no mines, forestry, tourism, roads or hydro developments are allowed.

These policies don’t just affect abstract people or large corporations. They hurt people’s lives. Take for example a constituent of mine. A lady in Lanark County put up her land for sale. It sold conditionally for over $100,000. But it was soon discovered that this property had the designation of a “provincially significant wetland”. That banned development and use. It also devalued the property to the point that no one would buy it. Her retirement savings were gone as a consequence.

These are not isolated cases. Between swamps, well heads protection and dubious endangered species designations, there is hardly an acre of Ontario that has not become a liability through regulations.

Free markets and economic development only work when people have the capability and freedom to turn their property into something more. It only works when people can use their labours, ingenuity and determination to make that $100 into $200. The reverse happens when property is a liability. People want and need the ability to go forward, not backwards.

Without individual growth and prosperity there cannot be collective prosperity, improved standards of living nor social safety nets and government services. Ontario is now home to over half a million laws and regulations and many of them have no other purpose then to limit your use and enjoyment of property; to limit yours and our economic growth. We are closing our historical circle, Have-Not status, high unemployment, burgeoning social assistance queues and outbound migration, is what our ancestors left behind and which we are recreating.

Roman, English and – by extension – Canadian legal scholars knew and emphasized that the law was something to be discovered from the people, not imposed. That just laws were laws which fulfilled people’s needs, wants and desires and protected their freedoms. In recent decades, we have forgotten this and chose regulation and legislation from above, which restricts and limits all of us below.

Ontario is not on a path forward. We’re on a path that takes us back to a time and place which our ancestors left; the only way forward to the land of opportunity is the land of property and rediscover the laws to protect these property rights.