Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013 Ottawa South by-election debate, July 17

This debate was organized by the Professional Engineers of Ontario and so focused on the issues of infrastructure, energy and regulation.  I had prepared written responses but time allowed only a minute or so for each, so I paraphrased and ad-libbed instead.  For the record, here are my full responses.

1.       Infrastructure - Ontario and Canada has under invested in infrastructure for the past 20 or more years. If elected what would you and your party do to establish secure long term funding for essential infrastructure projects?

I note that it is not Canada that has underinvested in anything, but rather it is government owned assets that are poorly managed and maintained.  This is because the only proper role  of government is the protection of individual rights and when it interferes in economic activities this naturally leads to a poor allocation of capital.  By taking capital away from the free market and healthy competitive forces, government owned or operated assets MUST be inefficient, less innovative, and ultimately serve customers worse than assets in a free market.  The idea that government should be building any infrastructure is one that comes from collectivist ideologies and not from those who defend individual rights and capitalism.

If elected, I would work to remove the thousands of obstacles government currently has in place that prevent Ontarians from planning, financing, building and operating all the infrastructure they need and want.  No project that is truly essential in a free market remains unconstructed for long.  In a free market, individuals and their companies seek opportunities to create value that is recognizable by large numbers of citizens being willing to pay for it.  

Let me give one example: hospitals.  In Ontario today, it is against the law for patients to choose experimental drugs they believe may help them, it takes tens of millions of dollars and many years for new treatments to be approved, it is against the law for patients to pay doctors, against the law for doctors to charge patients for services, against the law for companies to build and operate hospitals in a way proper for a free market.  Government has essentially declared war on innovative, efficient, competitive, lower cost and widely available health care.  Hospitals today contain massive inefficiencies and struggle to adopt technologies that are rapidly implemented in the more free market.  If Apple was run the way Ontario health care is run, it would still be trying to sell big, slow desktop computers.  If engineers were all forced to work in a government monopoly, bridges would be still made out of wood.

2.       Energy – Reliable, affordable and sustainable energy is essential in a modern society.  In the last several years the cost escalation for electrical energy has placed many Ontario industries at a competitive disadvantage compared to their trading competitors. If elected what would you and your party do to address the reduced electricity demand and the rising cost of electricity in Ontario?

Energy is indispensible for human life.  There is a direct relationship between energy production and quality and longevity of life.  Housing, clothing, food, education, transportation, work, health care and almost every other area of human life are improved dramatically with access to energy.  With discoveries of new ways to access energy, the industrial revolution lifted humanity out of a structural poverty that had persisted for all of history.

In a free market the natural trend is for products to become better at a lower cost and energy has been no exception.  Sources of energy undreamed of have been brought into reality by scientists, engineers and industrialists and new ones are being explored every day.  In just the last few years, vast new supplies of natural gas and oil have been identified, enormous supplies of methyl hydrates have been discovered below the ocean floor, nanotechnologists are working on ways to multiply the efficiency of photovoltaic panels, biofuels are being developed and it appears that safe, small scale and inexpensive fusion may be only a handful of years away.  In truth, energy is essentially limitless if humans are permitted to use their minds to explore for it.  

In contrast to a free market, Ontario has a monopoly electrical power system that makes a mockery of efficiency.  I have operated solar panels at my off-grid cottage for 20 years and know how inefficient they still are, despite large improvements.  Over ten years ago it was shown that with steady progress, solar panels would be able to compete with fossil fuels by around 2030.  The current government has spent billions of dollars on technologies that are far less efficient than existing standard technologies and saddled Ontarians with associated debt for decades. The government is taking money from all taxpayers, including those who can least afford it and paying it to relatively wealthy Ontarians and foreign companies to place solar panels on their roofs and accept giant windmills in their towns.  This money is completely wasted as Ontario has all the energy it can use and the excess produced by these projects is taken off our hands by New York and we have to pay them to take it!  Insanity.

The Freedom Party would move towards a free and competitive market for energy and remove all subsidies, programs and interference in the energy industry, except to protect citizens from physical harm.  The price of energy would go down dramatically while the variety and availability of energy would rise steadily.  New technologies that prove useful would be rapidly implemented.

3.       Regulation - On June 12th this year, the current government prevented implementing legislation in the manufacturing sector that would have ensured publicly accountable professional engineers oversee machinery that could cause harm to workers. Instead, the current government chose to favour the interests of business. According to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, Ontario is the worst province in Canada for worker safety in manufacturing, with worker deaths more than double the rest of Canada. If you were elected, what would you and your party do to protect Ontario manufacturing workers from bad engineering even if there was some cost to business? There are over 100 deaths in Ontario manufacturing businesses each year. Is saving one life or preventing one worker injury not worth putting this legislation in place?

The protection of citizens from physical harm IS the proper role of government - it’s only proper role.  This does not extend to regulating voluntary exchange.  In a free society every worker is be free to contract with any employer and to terminate that contract if he believes his workplace is not safe enough.  Similarly, every employer is free to run business as he sees fit.  If he does not offer a safe workplace he will not be able to compete for valuable employees and will suffer according to his degree of irrational business practices.  Unless it can be shown that an employer is using force against an employee then government should not interfere.  

On the other hand, a free society has lots of room for standards organizations and professional designations.  Professional engineers must have educational qualifications and maintain standards to hold their designation.  Their association may reprimand or eject them for violations and may publicize this.  In a free society you earn your reputation through good performance and serving customers, not through government approval.  

A free market ensures that the opinions of consumers are heard through their buying choices, the opinions of employees are heard through their wage preferences and that the most efficient businesses eventually succeed.  Ontario law is riddled with regulations that prevent many goods and services from being offered, or makes them so expensive they are not accessible to part of the population.  Some people may want the comfort of a certified professional for a job while others may be willing to risk using someone with lower qualifications.  No one has the right to prevent a buyer and seller from freely negotiating their own terms.  Many jobs have risks and in a free society compensation rises accordingly.  You can’t use government guns to make the world completely safe, and who would want to live in such a society?

No comments:

Post a Comment