In June 2009 the City of Ottawa’s planning and environment committee approved a bylaw forcing landowners to seek and pay for city approval to cut a tree located on their private property. Committee Chair Peter Hume said the bylaw does not go far enough and the City isn’t showing leadership. Let’s consider the ideas behind the bylaw and their logical implications to identify the ideology at work here.
Governments are created by citizens to protect them from the use of force or fraud by others. For protection, we delegate the right to initiate force to our government. This delegation of power must be closely supervised and limited to prevent the worst use of force – that done by a government to its own citizens. Fundamental legal documents such as a constitution and a bill of rights define the rights of individuals and restrict the powers of governments.
The basic individual rights are the right to life, liberty and property. Humans survive by using their unique capacity to reason. To survive (life) they must be free (liberty) to seek and earn values and keep the product of their effort (property). All other rights come from these.
Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed., 1999 defines private property as: property protected from public expropriation – over which the owner has exclusive and absolute rights. Note that the definition very specifically refers to the protection of the individual’s rights from government use of force. When you buy a real property you make a payment to the owner and the government registers you as the rightful owner. But do you really own your land and what is on it?
I can argue that you do not truly own your land because government charges you a tax based on their estimate of its market value. This tax is ostensibly for services they provide to you, but you have little or no choice of which services you want to pay for. Regardless of which you use, if you don’t pay the taxes they charge they will eventually seize your property by force.
Now back to the issue of your trees (and grass, weeds and soil)? Do you own these? Are you free to use them or not? Can you be forced to grow grass or cut it? Can you cover your soil with bricks or asphalt? Can you grow trees and cut them down? Apparently not – the very officials elected to protect your rights instead spend most of their time figuring out how to control more of your life, remove your rights and redirect your efforts to suit their own purposes. Consider that you could buy land, plant a tree, spend years nurturing it and then only the apparently omniscient City officials will determine if you are allowed to cut it down. Your own mind, decisions and preferences will not be considered and in fact no objective rule will determine what tree can be cut – only the subjective whims of bureaucrats will rule.
The very definition of property rights has been eliminated in almost all areas of your life. The primary purpose of government has been reversed from protecting your rights to disposing of them. Your elected officials spend almost all their time figuring out how to spend your money and take as much of it as they can get away with. We are left with massive and inefficient bureaucracies of unionized workers clamoring for their purported right to work and working conditions, right to wages, right to benefits, right to pensions, and right to force you to pay for all of it.
In this dramatic economic slowdown caused by the actions of such people, they cannot recognize the evidence for the failure of their collectivist ideologies and instead argue for more of the same to repair the damage. At the very least you now can try to stop them from stealing your exclusive and absolute right to plants grown on your own private property.