Montreal, April 15, 2007 • No 221




Harry Valentine is a
free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.




by Harry Valentine


          Nations historically increased their wealth and expanded their territory by invading and conquering other nations. The Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Khan dynasty, the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire were all directly and indirectly formed through military action. The British ruling class developed the notion that Britain was chosen by God to rule all existence and that all existence on earth was rightfully the property of the King of England.


          When the British navy arrived in new lands during the era of colonial expansion, local populations were regarded either as subjects to the king of England or invaders who had to be driven out by military force. Such was the case in some of the islands in the Caribbean where native populations were decimated. Resources that were found in the colonial lands were regarded as being the property of the crown. This included salt that was left on the beaches of India where seawater had evaporated. That people who lived in a hot climate needed salt for their survival was irrelevant.

          Indians could be jailed for theft if they helped themselves to any salt they found on any beach. Only certain privileged people of British ancestry who were known as peers to the crown were allowed access to such resources and for their own economic benefit. Many acquired their wealth by trading in such resources as well as in spices that grew in the colonies. Nazi theorists recognized that precedent when they asserted that Germany had a right to the resources of other nations as well as a right to claim what was rightfully theirs. Storm troopers subsequently marched across international borders to exercise that right and occupy (and enslave) formerly sovereign nations.

Then and Now

          A version of British law that gave the king dominion over the resources of the earth still exists in Canadian provincial law. The mineral resources that lie under the privately owned property in Canada are regarded as the property of the crown. That is spelled out in the Mineral Resources Act of every province and denies private property owners the right to the resources that lie under their land. The crown asserts a right to sell those mineral rights to persons other than the landowner and without advising private landowners of its intentions in this regard.

          Landowners who live west of Ottawa recently became aware of this after they discovered prospectors' markings on their property. They discovered that they did not own the resources under their land and had little recourse under Canadian law to keep outsiders off their land. Canadian courts still uphold a version of the same British law that gave the king dominion over all existence while it denied private property rights to native people who lived in British colonies. Canadian provincial politicians had earlier repealed private property rights from provincial laws while both federal and provincial politicians removed it from Canada's constitution prior to its repatriation into Canada.

          The landowners who live west of Ottawa may have little hope of delaying heavy machinery from arriving on their land to access the uranium that is believed to lie under it. Ontario needs to build new electric power stations and has chosen to go the nuclear route. The federal government owns a company that makes nuclear reactors and has not made a sale in many years. It urgently needs a customer for a technology that can only operate on one kind of fuel and that is uranium that can be found in Ontario near Ottawa. Accessing that uranium could devalue the surface property, without any recourse for the landowners.

          The prospect of a customer for nuclear technology could help Ottawa finally sell the federally owned nuclear group to private interests. It is unlikely that any federal politician would make any mention of re-installing private property rights back into Canada's constitution. Including private property rights into Canada's constitution could otherwise precipitate a challenge to the Mineral Resources Act and would be politically contentious. Provincial authorities may raise a protest at such a prospect and instead be motivated to bully the landowners into submission "for the greater good" of Ontario. Prospectors could then have a field day on somebody else's property.

Prospecting Under Property Rights

          Prospecting in Canada under a regime of constitutional private property rights would change the nature of prospecting. Prospectors would need to obtain permission from interested landowners to do some testing on their lands. Modern seismic testing techniques are non-invasive and may be able to reveal what lies at great depths beneath the ground surface. Interested landowners could grant permission to prospectors to deep drill multiple test-wells on their property to discover what resources lie deep in the earth. If the test-wells yield nothing of significance, the landowners could subsequently use such wells to geothermally heat and cool their homes.

"Prospecting in Canada under a regime of constitutional private property rights would change the nature of prospecting. Prospectors would need to obtain permission from interested landowners to do some testing on their lands."

          The landowner could enter into voluntary negotiations with the prospector and other interested parties in the event that something of value is found to exist under their land. Owners of neighboring properties could be invited into the negotiations if the valuable resource extends under their property as well. A resource such as natural gas is usually found in deep porous rock.

          A gas well that is drilled into deep porous rock and located on one property could access natural gas found in porous rock that lies under neighboring properties. It is unlikely that any such properties would be damaged or devalued if natural gas were removed from deep in the earth under that land. Ground water could be allowed to flood into depleted natural gas wells that could then be used as geothermal reservoirs by the owners of properties that are located above the porous rock.

          Prospecting and mining could continue in Canada under a regime of private property rights. Governments will still extract tax revenues whenever resources are traded. There are non-invasive seismic testing techniques that prospectors could use to discover what resources lie deep underground in any region and without intruding on to private property. All they would subsequently need is one property owner to either sell land to them or to a mining company or to voluntarily grant them access on to their private property (in exchange for compensation) so that drilling or mining could begin.

          Mining companies could offer to buy the property. They could also initiate discussions with neighboring property owners to seek their permission to build mining tunnels deep under their property. They could also provide assurances that no damage would occur near the surface of the land. Some compensation could be offered in exchange for deep access. Tunnels that are drilled or blasted out of rock (and have arched or curved ceilings) would last for many decades. Groundwater would flood into the deep tunnels of exhausted mines and become a geothermal reservoir that could supply winter heating for even large commercial buildings.

          Commodities such as oil, uranium, natural gas, potash, geothermal energy and a wide range of metallic ores could be extracted from the earth under a regime of private property rights. Their cost could remain competitive since fewer state bureaucrats would be involved in the resources sector. Prospecting for and mining these resources could still prevail in a regime that is free from the state sanctioned coercion that is presently found across Canada.

          The uranium that lies under private property in Eastern Ontario could still be prospected for and mined under such a regime. Ontario would still have access to a local supply of uranium for its nuclear power stations. Canada's federally owned maker of nuclear reactors would have a domestic customer for its products and federal officials may still be able to privatize it. And provincial governments would still be able to obtain tax revenue whenever these commodities are traded.