Über and fast-food: The banality of state intervention

Par Beryl Wajsman le 24 février 2016

The current debate over Über and the restriction by the CDN/NDG borough of future fast food restaurants to two streets and a mall, should make everyone wake up to the unacceptable level of intervention by politicians and bureaucrats into our private lives. These are not areas where the state should be involved. And the very banality of government involvement is underscored by its actions that treat us like children.

Politicians take note: people are going to exact retribution when our power to choose is taken away. And you do no good to future generations when you destroy individual capacity for making reasoned decisions. The essence of a free society is freedom of choice. In our cars, our food and yes, even in our elected officials. And this freedom is paramount even when we choose badly.

We are not unsympathetic to the plight of taxi drivers who have gone into debt to pay outrageous amounts for permits and fees. But the staggering tenfold increase in the price of Montreal's taxi permits over the past twenty years was caused by state intervention. Municipal administrations in the 1990s decided to limit the number of taxis at the beginning of this city's senseless war on cars. Government policies gave us this problem. Let's stop the state from making it worse.

We pay taxes and accept certain limits for the services that we need and that can only be effectively provided by government. Defence, healthcare, education, transport, protection of the vulnerable, to name a few. But that should be it. The micro-management of our personal lives should not be in the purview of the state. It should be, to use the legal term, "ultra vires."

So if a person has a car and wants to drive people around for a price, how is that the business of the state? Why should it be subject to regulation? Some might say that regulation assures clean cabs and standardized pricing. But we can surely decide that for ourselves. If a car we want to hire is dirty or we don't like the price, we don't have to take it. The drivers will soon get the message. But it should be our choice to do what we want with our personal moveable property.

The same is true for what we eat. Government has a role to play in educating the public on nutrition. It has no nanny-state right to enact punitive banning measures as the CDN/NDG borough did. The borough has decided that all future "fast-food" restaurants would be limited to ten blocks on Décarie and a similar area along St-Jacques as well as inside CDN Plaza. It even came up with a definition of such establishments and a bureaucrat very proudly stated that the borough has "redefined" restaurants. A senior councillor added that this action was a "legitimate" municipal zoning power. 

Well, here's a news flash to both of those silly servants. You're both wrong! Bureaucrats shouldn't become dictionaries. They cause enough havoc with regulations. They shouldn't get into definitions. And as for zoning, the politicians have made enough of a mess and stunted growth with residential, commercial, industrial and mixed-use zoning. They really shouldn't get into subcategories.

But most of all they should leave us alone to choose. The borough excuses its decision on the grounds of protecting young people. They don't get it. It's not the job of the state to do that on matters of personal choice. It's the parents' job. It's the teachers' job. Young people have to learn to make decisions for themselves. How else will they become responsible adults? Or do the CDN/NDG statocrats have a "master plan" for defining adult personal choices too?

Over the past four decades, western politicians have forgotten that the primary responsibility of government is the provision of essential services, not social engineering. They’ve forgotten that they are called public servants. Instead, they have engaged in a frenzied orgy of prohibition and regulation truly unmatched in modern history. They have perverted the liberal industrial state into a nanny state with armies of bureaucrats and inspectors. 

The "right side" of history has always been, and will continue to be, that side that defends and expands individual freedoms. Among the most important of which is the freedom to choose. We as a people must commit to one over-riding principle: that neither the state nor society has  a right to impose a collective morality on personal, self-centered conduct. We have to understand, as constitutional attorney Julius Grey put it, that “legislating niceness is not very nice.”


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Beryl P. Wajsman

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