Secure Property Rights A Necessity: Manitoba needs to tighten loose land ownership rules

Commentary, Property Rights, Joseph Quesnel

Ever wonder how Manitoba ranks in property rights protections?

In mid-March, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy released its inaugural Canadian Property Rights Index, a new annual measure of property rights in all 10 provinces and three territories.

Manitoba was tied with Saskatchewan for fifth place at 60.5%.

The Canadian Property Rights Index measures property along eight indicators: Registering/transferring property, expropriation, land use planning/Constructive takings, civil forfeiture, municipal power of entry, heritage property, endangered species, and wills and successions.

Western provinces tended to perform better than Eastern ones on the Index.

Manitoba led the country in municipal power of entry. Under the province’s Municipal Act officials must give notice to land owners before they come onto a property for bylaw purposes, they must enter with a warrant, and there is oversight over the whole process.

Manitoba ranked fourth overall on endangered species, indicating that land owners are consulted and compensated when the government must act to protect endangered species or habitat.

The province was also fourth on heritage property, but did not provide any form of compensation to property owners who find their land use restricted because their home is a heritage or culturally-significant site.

On land use planning, Manitoba lags behind, but they are in good company with most provinces and territories. Land use planning refers to restrictions placed on permitted land uses, which decreases its value to the owner.

However, among Western provinces, Manitoba was on the lower end. Our province, while maintaining the superior Torrens system of property registration has the most punitive land transfer taxes in Canada. As a comparative measure, consider that a home valued at $200,000 accrues a $1,720 land tax in Manitoba as compared to $600 in Saskatchewan and $95 in Alberta.

Manitoba has a civil forfeiture regime heavily biased towards government. It’s easier for government to seek title to property used in or gained from criminal activity. It’s important to know, however, that in civil forfeiture no actual criminal conviction is required. Also, the burden of proof is on a balance of probabilities, not on the stricter beyond a reasonable doubt standard. This oftentimes means innocent, non-criminal third parties get tangled in the proceedings.

Our province is relatively weak on expropriation. Manitoba lacks robust procedural protections for land owners caught up in government-led compulsory purchases. Manitoba allows expropriation for vaguely defined municipal purposes, which leaves the process open to abuse. Allowing expropriation for “any municipal purpose” allows municipal governments to confiscate land in order to engage in economic development. Municipal officials can enter into agreements with deep pocketed developers and confiscate someone’s land. However, government does not have a good record when it comes to engaging in business. Back in 2008, Blaine Pedersen, MLA for Carman, introduced a private members bill to restrict governments from expropriating for economic development purposes. However, the bill failed to pass. It’s time to re-introduce that.

This is all important because property rights are critical to our economic prosperity, as well as an important part of our liberal democracy. Individuals and businesses require a predictable return on their investments, which necessitates enforced property rights. Individuals also need a buffer between them and the government to be truly free.

It’s time Manitobans spoke up for property rights. They need to tell their elected representatives they are important.