Voters must not tolerate land grabs, without fair compensation.

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Dalton McGuinty's land grab

National Post
November 2, 2004

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is perpetrating an injustice by introducing legislation that will ban future development of 1.8 million acres of private land without offering the property owners anything in return. While staking out more green space is a reasonable government objective, the failure to compensate landowners for the resulting losses is unacceptable.

According to Mr. McGuinty, the goal of the scheme is "to build a legacy for our children, one that includes protecting thousands of acres of prime farmland so farmers can prosper, preserving our watersheds, rivers and forests to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe." But he offers no rationale for imposing the entire cost of this "legacy" on one group of unfortunate landowners. If the project is as dear as Mr. McGuinty says, and the benefits as widely shared, he should be willing to pay fair value for it.




Indeed, many of the very farmers Mr. McGuinty is purporting to help will be among the hardest hit. The land under their feet will become less valuable and their ability to acquire mortgage financing will decline accordingly. As Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bennett has explained: "Their retirement program has been swept out from under them."

Though we would be happy to see Mr. McGuinty simply compensate property owners for their losses, an even better option would be to follow the lead of The Nature Conservancy, an environmental charity that protects natural habitats in both Canada and the United States by engaging in private, voluntary transactions -- from outright purchases to easements -- with landowners. The result is meaningful conservation without coercive landgrabbing.

For all Canadians, not just Ontarians, there is an important principle at stake here. Property rights -- people's freedom to use the things they own in whatever way they choose so long as they don't infringe on the rights of others -- form the very basis of a free and democratic society. And as the United States Supreme Court emphasized in its 1917 Buchanan v. Warley decision: "Property is more than the thing which a person owns. It is elementary that it includes the right to acquire, use and dispose of it."

We realize that the province of Ontario is not legally obligated to compensate the landowners whose property use it is restricting: No doubt, Mr. McGuinty has been emboldened by the lamentable failure of Canada's Constitution to enshrine citizens' property rights. But the omission should not be mistaken for a sign that the government's licence to exploit landowners will be tolerated -- either by those affected, or by voters at large.

 National Post 2004