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Harper wants to re-open the Constitution. Why?

One reason, says Mitchell Anderson of TheTyee.ca, is that Harper wants to enshrine property rights in the Constitution. He goes on to explain why this is a Neocon wet dream, and a bad thing for Canada (as most Neocon wet dreams are). The synopsis:

First of all, the constitution is the "prime directive" of government. It overrides all other federal, provincial and municipal laws, and is not something to be tinkered with lightly.

The Conservative plan would put property rights on the same legal footing as human rights. The result could be demands for compensation whenever an environmental law prohibits a property owner from doing something (like putting a toxic site in the middle of a community), or requires them to do something extra (like building subdivisions to a higher density to prevent urban sprawl).

This has already come to pass in Oregon, where "Measure 37" voted property rights into the state constitution in 2004.

The Washington Post commented, "the property-rights law …is on the brink of wrecking Oregon's best-in-the-nation record of reining in sprawl, according to state officials and national planning experts." Put more bluntly, "Measure 37 blew up our land-use system," said Democrat Senator Charlie Ringo, from suburban Portland.

Will Harper learn from Oregon's mistake? Probably not. Considering the absolute lack of intelligent land-use planning in my home (Halifax), enshrining a property free-for-all in the Constitution would be a backwards step. I can't imagine what kind of a nightmare this would create for cities that actually have plans which aim to control suburban sprawl.

I'm not sure if a constitutional comparison between America (who have property rights) and Canada (who do not) is appropriate here. One thing that sets us apart is the notwithstanding clause. Its only been used twice but it was put in for these kinds of things.

The problem I have with property right now is that the government reserves the right to take your stuff any time they want. My father bought up a bunch of land near where a group planned a housing project. The idea was they'd buy it for cheap and then sell it off to this group for a lot. What ended up happening was the government expropriated the property and paid him under what he paid for it.

No company wants to get into a court issue that they are likely to lose.

There are some trade-offs I agree, but the way our system is organized does not allow for total corporate power of the marketplace.

We might have different checks and balances than the US, but I don't know that we'd be in any better shape than Oregon is with enshrined property rights. And I don't know why we need to give corporations any more rope to hang us than they already have.

I don't ever want to be put into the position of hoping for a corporation to do something that goes against the bottom line.

There,Kev, is the problem in a nutshell. What will corporations do with their land if they can do whatever they want? And do you really want to be the poor bastard that lives next door when they decide that they can make the most money storing medical waste or by opening up a gravel quarry? To use a couple of worst case scenarios. Currently how what you do on your property will affect those around you gets some consideration. To my mind enshrining property rights will effectivly destroy any quality of life and environmental considerations by removing any power to enforce laws concerning them. Like Paul Vincent governments power to take your land makes me nervous. Just google Jackie Vautour if you want to see what a debacle that can become. However I do believe that consideration for the effects on your neighbours and environment needs to be taken into account before you do anything with it.I dont think that in general corporations will do this if they aren't forced to by law. Their concern is maximum profit, not their neighbours well being. Finally is there anyone out there who can comment on the legal aspects of this? Because I'd really like to know what they are.

I'd hardly say the U.S. has property rights enshrined considering the Supreme Court not two years ago, in a 5-4 decision, said that State and local governments have the right to expropriate your property for a private development as this story shows.

True Dan,
But the Oregon example was a change to the state constitution, which is harder for a court to overturn. It is supposed to be absolute, but I'm not really sure how absolute it is.

There was a problem with the link you posted in your comment. I have fixed it here.

This property right bit in their platform was the thing that worried me the most about them during the last election.

If they were talking about making sure people are fairly compensated for property expropriated by the government under specific circumstances, that doesn't seem to uncontroversial. Germany has something like this in their constitution.

But as you've all noted, it's very unlikely that this is what Harper intends. I'm sure he'll cloak it, under the pretext of making sure governments are held accountable for taking property, but the actual amendment will look a lot more like the Oregon amendment than Article 14(3) of the German Constitution.

Oddly enough, there was a property rights clause at some point in the proposed Charter back in the early 80's, but the Provinces asked it be removed for exactly the same reasons that have been discussed here! Wonder what will happen this time around...

Just Society - As you say, they're going to cloak it behind protecting individual liberties - that's standard fare for these guys. This weekend I'll poke around and see that the NCC's stand on this is.

Not that they've any bearing on the CPC, of course.


Forgive me for being forward, but just check out page 6 of the NCC's Agenda for Canada. They appear to want many of the same things as Harper's Conservatives. Go figure.

And let's not underestimate the Power of Free Enterprise and Common Sense. They're conceptual twins. It's just common sense that the poor are lazy and that tax cuts create jobs. And those poor forlorn CEOs need all the help they can get so they can hire chumps like me to mow their lawns! If we don't cut their taxes then they won't be able to hire guys like me.

The only way to improve common sense here in Canada is by allowing as much free enterprise as possible. No more 5 year plans, people.

No forgiveness necessary, Just Society - thanks for doing the legwork! I just love the title of the document - "Agenda for Canada!" - as eerie an echo of "Contract with America" as you'll ever see here. (Or was that Contract on America?)

Right there - number one on their "hit" parade - "Entrench Private Property Rights". I wonder if the Conservatives are going to do them in order? Keep your eyes open - the next one will be repealing the "gag" law on election reform. They're going to want that one soon, I'm sure. I've written about that one in some detail a little while back, here.

I had been meaning to continue writing about these guys but got distracted. Thanks for reminding me - it's time to get back to work!

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