Canadians need to understand how fundamental secure property rights are to our standard of living and continued prosperity. We need to ensure that our provincial and territorial governments are taking them seriously and protecting them.
Often, it isn’t until we lose something that we realize its value. Property rights are no exception to this. It’s clear that we take these rights for granted every day.
In 2021, Quebec’s government legislated a prohibition on oil and gas exploration within the province, and in the process infringed upon the rights of companies that had poured millions into the province’s energy industry over decades. These companies had to wage legal battles against the province for compensation.
The following year, the British Columbia government considered broadening its civil forfeiture laws to encompass “unexplained wealth orders” suspected to originate from criminal activity. Regrettably, this invasive law could potentially erode the principle of presumed innocence in the province’s judicial system.
Governments of all stripes consistently conceive of new ways to undermine our fundamental property rights, justified by a variety of reasons, ranging from misguided climate change hysteria to combating organized crime.
Canada needs a uniform method to gauge our property rights so that we can understand where we’re succeeding and where we’re failing.
Ten years ago, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy published its inaugural Canadian Property Rights Index. This concept was inspired by the International Property Rights Index, a flagship project of the U.S.-based Property Rights Alliance. Even though the Canadian Property Rights Index differs significantly from its international counterpart, it emerged from queries by journalists as to why property rights protection across Canadian provinces and territories could not be assessed.
This inspiration gave birth to an index gauging property rights protection across eight distinct indicators. The index revealed that our property rights were not as safeguarded as those in many other major industrialized nations. For instance, many other nations went the extra mile to compensate private landowners if government policies curtailed the economic value of land. Moreover, Canada still did not have constitutional protection for property, unlike our immediate neighbour, the United States.
Fast-forward a decade, and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy will be releasing its revamped Canadian Property Rights Index at the end of July. But I can give you some details in advance of the release.
The index, which now has a simplified methodology and features seven indicators – Land Title System, Expropriation, Regulatory Takings (‘downzoning’), Municipal Power of Entry, Civil Forfeiture, Endangered Species, and Heritage Property – rather than eight, representing distinct aspects of personal and real property in Canada, reveals new surprises.
In the 2023 Index, British Columbia is leading the pack in terms of property rights protection, instead of Nova Scotia as in the 2013 index. However, as explained above, the government is considering new threats to the property rights of British Columbians. Nunavut also performed strongly in contrast to the other Northern territories. Alberta slipped a little, while Manitoba remained in the top five jurisdictions, but Saskatchewan fell a little to the bottom five jurisdictions. Quebec also fell off the list of the bottom five, but as seen above, environmentalism and anti-energy policies in that province might serve to erode that province’s standing over time.
Finally, as in the 2013 index, Newfoundland and Labrador and particularly Prince Edward Island continue to lag behind the rest of the provinces. Those provinces also have an older form for registering property title that is less secure, and both maintain policies that limit property rights protections for individual landowners. This needs to change for the Maritimes and Atlantic Canada to reach the level of Nova Scotia.
Why does this matter?
Property rights are fundamental to our modern economy and our sense of liberty and protection against unwarranted government intervention. Therefore, we must constantly evaluate our protections and hold governments accountable. If anything, this demonstrates that all Canadian governments need to improve our rights’ safeguarding, and citizens must be constantly reminding themselves of their duties to ensure this happens.
Joseph Quesnel is a senior research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and author of the forthcoming 2023 Canadian Property Rights Index.
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