Friday, August 03, 2007

The Politics of Property Rights

If Harper were to take it up, how would strengthening the Bill of Rights' property rights provisions play out?

David Cheifetz is skeptical:

The Trogs are going to have a big problem beefing up the property rights portions for the Bill of Rights for the same reasons the attempts to add those protections failed in the Charter run-up. You're also right, I think, that it would divide the Grits.

But, and here's the big big but: there's a real "be careful what you wish for" danger for the Trogs in what you're proposing. My suspicion is that the attempt might "unite the left" and the traditional centre. That's still a bigger voting group that the Tory core and the newly successful entrepeneurial immigrant core.

My sense is that the political context has changed since 1982. The economic left has been in retreat for that entire time: lots of serious people announced they wee socialists twenty five years ago. More importantly, the PCs were fighting on two fronts at the time. The cause of parliamentary supremacy being lost, property rights would no longer be divisive on the right.

Also, I don't think this would be as unifying for the centre-left as all that. There are arguments against entrenched or semi-entrenched property rights, of course, but they aren't easy ones to articulate in a politically compelling way. A parade of Lochner-style horribles can be met by incredulity that the Canadian courts would ever countenance such things. If the opponents of property rights expresses distrust in the courts, they can be met by questioning their Canadianness. The Pope is only infallible when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals: the Supreme Court is infallible on everything. If you allow the possibility that the courts might err, what would come next? You'll be denying that Tommy Douglas introduced medicare or that Justin Trudeau has a three digit IQ! If the critic persists, then "that's what the override is there for, man" should work.

The most appealing reason to do this is that it would appeal to the key constituency Harper has been trying to attract: "market dominant minority" immigrant communities. If your experience consists in being expropriated by envious majorities, then this could be the symbolic issue to shake you from your historic attachment to the Liberals. Alternatively, enough Liberals will realize this to support the government, in which case it works for Harper as well.

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