Being that I am the property rights critic in the legislature, the Grassroots Alberta Landowners’ Association enabled me to preview a copy of their soon-to-be-released publication, “Property and Freedom.”
A key message in the publication is that poverty is not a mystery. Poverty has little to do with location, geography, or even the availability of natural resources. At the end of the 20th century, major wealth creating nations on the Pacific Rim with dynamic economies but without significant natural resources included and still include Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.
The reason so many countries are poor, and have been poor for a long time, is that their governments are corrupt and the people have no property rights. When property rights are secure and the rule of law enforced, new wealth emerges. People find ways to be innovative, to create, to invent, to add value and worth to things that can then be sold. Property rights ensure that ordinary people have a personal stake in what’s occurring.
One extensive section of the publication is by Alberta businessman and rancher, Marshall Copithorne, based on a speech he delivered at the Western Stock Growers Association. According to Copithorne, when it comes to the property rights of Canadians, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was the country’s best champion. In an effort to address deficiencies in property rights protection, Diefenbaker had drafted and enacted the Canadian Bill of Rights, which Copithorne refers to as the only real written reference to any concept of property rights in Canadian history.
The 1960 Bill of Rights protects the right of individual Canadians to “life, liberty, security of person, and the enjoyment of property.” Unfortunately, the term “enjoyment of property” turned out to be too nebulous. Diefenbaker didn’t go far enough. He didn’t clearly refer to property ownership. The Bill of Rights certainly provides some consideration for property owners, but nevertheless, it didn’t succeed at establishing property rights in law.
Copithorne says that as odd as it sounds, Pierre Trudeau unwittingly carried out something very important for Canadians. Not once does the Charter for which Trudeau was responsible make a direct reference to private property rights. Even so, the 1982 Charter did establish a division of power between the provincial legislatures and the federal parliament on the issue of property rights.
Section 92 says: “In each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated, that is to say, (13) Property and Civil Rights … .”
Thus the opportunity to entrench the legal rights of property owners lies with each individual province. Alberta today has the legal authority to call on Ottawa to amend the Canadian constitution as it applies to property rights in our province. The permission of no other province is needed.
“Canadians, in general — and Albertans, in particular — do not have any property rights that they can rely on in any ongoing sense,” Copithorne said. “Alberta property owners are [therefore] at the mercy of … jealousy, envy, injustice, moral decay, and big government want.”
Even today, there is nothing stopping the Alberta legislature from passing a motion calling on Ottawa to establish constitutional property rights for Albertans. Clearly, as Copithorne says, the consistent failure of the Alberta legislature to identify property rights as a proven requirement for a peaceful, long-lasting, and secure future is a tragedy.