Property rights entrenchment debate heats up

Blog, Property Rights, Joseph Quesnel

As readers are aware, a movement is afoot to entrench property rights in the Charter.

A group called Canadians for Property Rights is asking citizens to sign a petition in support of MP Scott Reid and Ontario MPP Randy Hillier’s Motion M-646, which would apply to Ontario.

Petition here:

They propose to use section 43 of the Charter, which allows for an amendment affecting only one or more provinces to be made by the Governor General, following the adoption of resolutions passed by the legislatures of the affected jurisdictions and both Houses of the federal Parliament.

The petition is being strongly supported by Peter Jaworski, a property rights advocate affiliated with the Institute for Liberal Studies, an excellent educational organization.

The Jaworskis were recently involved in a major property rights dispute when the Municipality of Clarington decided to abuse its power in preventing them from operating an educational event on their Orono property.

What happened to the Jaworskis provides compelling reasons to take effective measures to protect property rights, including entrenchment.

What should be made clear is this is mainly about just and timely compensation for expropriation. It does not prevent expropriation or the government’s ability to regulate land use, etc.

In other words, it seems like a moderate, measured approach that deserves serious consideration. It should also be noted that perhaps some observers are misinterpreting what the amendment actually says.

However, some observers are calling for caution. Not because they do not support property rights, but they are worried about unintended consequences of entrenchment.

Esteemed political scientist Janet Ajzenstat argued that entrenching property rights is not good because it takes these important issues out of the legislative arena, which she views as the more legitimate place to debate these matters. “Constitutionalizing rights takes political issues out of legislatures and detracts from public debate, ” she says.  “It demeans the citizens’ sense of political efficacy. The better way to correct particular injustices is to keep hammering away at issues and abuses in the arena of public opinion and in the legislatures.”

On the other hand, political scientist and property rights defender Rainer Knopf at the University of Calgary also opposed property rights entrenchment because we don’t know how judges will ultimately interpret them and if they do it  wrongly, it is difficult to change judicial decisions. He believes an effective system of checks and balances is preferable to entrenchment.