Well, prohibition season is upon us and in full swing.
What seems to be an at least yearly event, perhaps corresponding to the weather, is in full throttle at provincial and municipal governments. Politicians find it easier to prohibit first, question later, than concentrating on getting the basics right. It is an appeal to the base politics of fear and a perpetuation of the lie that life can be legislated into what David Taylor Jones has called the “zero-risk” state
This kind of politics is wrong. It infringes on Charter rights and natural justice. And worst of all it treats us all like children. The essence of a free society is just that – freedom - to speak as we like, to choose as we like…even if they are bad choices.
But reasonable people could be forgiven for thinking that the real driver behind all these prohibitions is money and votes. More fines, more revenue for government coffers to feed more bureaucrats enforcing regulations that serve only to put more power into the hands of politicians over our lives. And of course, gathering votes at the edges by pandering to every screaming interest group no matter how small. Remember as you read on, what starts in one city or town or borough, usually spreads like wildfire everywhere as more jurisdictions see this potential for pecuniary and political profit. In the end, we are all suffocated.
Let’s review the past few weeks. The Ville-Marie borough decided that terraces have to be on the outside of sidewalks going into the road. No more chairs hugging restaurant or pub frontages. Ostensibly the reason was to ease pedestrian traffic. Yet the borough has had only one complaint in three years. So of course it is better to put diners at risk of an out of control car on the road taking out ten people at a time. Oh, there is another element. The permits for these new terraces will be more expensive since some require construction and the owners also have to cover the cost of the parking spaces blocked. Who needs parking downtown right? After all, business is booming without it.
The city of Granby made it illegal for citizens to post offensive comments about police officers online. What’s next, a prohibition against criticizing elected councillors? Hasn’t Granby heard that Canada has freedom of speech as a constitutional guarantee? But how valuable are liberties when they can be replaced by the stiff fines which Granby has instituted. Clearly the latter have priority.
The provincial government is seeking to limit how many anti-depressant drugs each Quebecer can consume a year, even with a prescription. So your health is no longer a decision for you and your doctor but must comply with "Big Brother." At the same time, Quebec is seeking to extend the ban on outdoor smoking. Aside from banning smoking on terraces, what makes the province’s latest proposal legally absurd is that it would require smokers to refrain from lighting up until they are 27 feet from the doorway of a public entrance. The problem is most entrances are 20-25 feet wide. So even if someone wanted to comply, they physically could not. Our jurisprudence demands that laws must be capable of actually being able to be executed by the public. This one cannot be. But what do legal protections matter when there is a great reason to issue more tickets?
The city of Montreal is now considering passage of a resolution demanding that Quebec make new regulations forcing fast-food outlets to post large signs listing the nutritional value of the products they sell. And you can bet the next step will be someone calling for a ban on some of these products. Whatever happened to making up our own minds? Oh, we forgot, we’re children and need to be guided in how much soda pop we consume. Or will there be a new “health tax” on all the things so many like to eat and drink?
And finally the Couillard administration is making noises about going to court to force major retailers like WalMart and Best Buy to add French descriptors to their names even though trademark names are protected by our language laws. No matter, we must protect the minds of our children musn’t we? And if companies fail to comply….you guessed it…fine them!
As Julius Grey has written so often, “Legislating niceness s not very nice. Big Brother est allé trop loin." While governments are reaching excessive levels of paternalism and expensive oversight engaging in social engineering, what are they doing about protecting essential services? We got a taste of that last week when it was confirmed that the Réné-Cassin seniors day centre would be closed for budgetary reasons.
Queen Victoria`s favourite Prime Minister was Conservative Benjamin Disraeli. He loved to quote the writer Samuel Butler that, “The proper tole of vice is to keep virtue in reasonable bounds.” Disraeli believed the state had no role regulating consensual choices of adults. His lesson was that not everything is going to be perfect in life. Not every problem can be solved by legislation. No politician should pretend it can and be allowed to put into force straightjacket law that seeks to micro-manage every aspect of our lives.
Today’s politicians who engage in this kind of chicanery should be exposed for what they truly are. Unimaginative functionaries staggering from election to election who, fearful of tackling the vested interests on the really important issues necessary to protect the public good, hope that creating prohibitionary rule and regulation will provide just enough fodder for some publicity come election time. And enough extra revenue from fines and taxes to get them there.