Drivers on the quiet roads of rural Ontario are surely familiar with them. The proudly flaunted signs that dot the landscape send a clear message to passers-by: “This Land is Our Land. Back Off Government [sic].” The signs are a product of a campaign begun in 2003 by Randy Hillier called the “Rural Revolution.” The movement has since grown to be a real political force in Ontario with the Ontario Landowners Association claiming a membership of 15,000. Hillier himself now sits as a Progressive Conservative MPP in the Ontario legislature and even made a run for the party’s leadership.
The Rural Revolution claims to hold libertarian values like property rights, individual liberty, and smaller government at its core. They openly oppose any and all forms of government regulation. Randy Hillier along with Conservative MP Scott Reid at the federal level are even planning to introduce bills before their respective houses of government which would amend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include property rights. The opposition to government regulation and protection of property rights may sound appealing in principle, but in reality this involves the rest of society paying a high price.
Consider the example of a farm on which cow traffic and manure has degraded a stream bed. In order to stop the degradation, the government might reinforce the stream bed or install a cow crossing. According to the Randy Hillier and the OLA, such government intervention is a violation of rights and freedoms if the property owner objects to it. They reason that if a landowner wishes to degrade a stream on their private property, it is their right. A stream, however, is rarelyjust a stream. What if it was a spawning bed for fish vital to the local ecosystem and economy? What if that stream was the water source for an entire community and got contaminated with deadly E. coli from the manure? As any citizen of Walkerton, Ontario will tell you, this latter scenario is no stretch of the imagination.
Like any other industry, farming involves the production of negative externalities — costs not borne by the producer, but by others in society. According to the OLA, farmers should not be made to bear such implicit costs of doing business simply because they own the land. That sounds a lot more like a group of vested private interests than a group crusading for liberal rights and freedoms.
What’s more, rural landowners are by and large enormous beneficiaries of government aid — something the OLA never bothers to mention. Subsidies and quotas ensure that the price received by most farmers for their product is artificially high and that the market in which they operate is free from competitive pressure. Apparently the libertarian principles extolled by the Rural Revolutionaries don’t even extend to being pro-free market.
Furthermore, agricultural land in Ontario is taxed at a rate 75% less than that of the regular municipal tax rate. No joke. One would think that individuals who are clearly net beneficiaries of state intervention would have a slightly less hostile attitude towards the government.
In essence, the OLA and its members expect is to be treated exceptionally in every area of government policy that affects them regardless of the costs imposed on others. This goes well beyond merely being unprincipled: it is utter hypocrisy. I strongly urge Ontarians and Canadians to oppose the current bills proposed by Hillier and Reid and to recognize that merely purporting to be defenders of rights and freedoms means nothing when those rights and freedoms benefit the few and harm the many.