Le Québécois Libre, June 15, 2012, No 301
Property rights are one of the foundations of a civil society in which peaceful citizens enjoy the right to buy, sell and make changes to their property. Every year as the warm weather begins, thousands of families plant vegetable gardens in their back yards while many others make repairs and renovations to their homes. Many hobby mechanics undertake repairs and maintenance to their automobiles, motorcycles and powered boats.
Now imagine a regulation that makes it a criminal offense to undertake repairs and renovations to a vehicle that you own, or to real estate that is registered in your name. Or imagine that if you acquire ownership of a commercial building, it becomes a criminal offense to paint your building, repair the plumbing or undertake any renovations. An entrepreneur from Knowlton, Quebec recently discovered that he is forbidden by force of law from undertaking repairs and renovations to his own building, despite having practical experience doing such work.
The regulation dates back to 1968, the time of the “Quiet Revolution” in Quebec when the Quebec Federation of Labour perhaps had much more political power than at the present day. It bestows a benefit on labour union members by protecting them from legitimate competition. Unfortunately, it may lead owners to neglect commercial buildings in regions that have experienced an economic downturn, resulting in a rundown commercial district with boarded-up commercial properties that nobody wants to purchase or rent. While labour union members in large centers may benefit from the regulation, it imposes economic disadvantages on smaller communities in outlying regions.
The regulation has numerous exceptions where owners of commercial property may consult with Quebec’s department of labour as to how to proceed with regard to minor renovations. However, the existence of the regulation provides a precedent for other areas of “do-it-yourself” economic activity. Governments are usually eager to extend favours to large organized groups that could deliver votes at election time, including new regulations that target the “do-it-yourself” segment of the population.
Most automobile dealerships earn more revenue from their maintenance and repair departments than from the actual sale of new and used vehicles. Many “do-it-yourself” types are able to pump air into and rotate their own tires, change their own air filters, change the engine oil themselves, replace some electronic components and undertake a variety of other small repairs. Some of these people may own a vehicle that they use commercially and that they maintain themselves. But government regulation has increased the complexity of automobiles in recent years.
Some automobile manufacturers appear to have made their products more difficult for the “do-it-yourself” types to repair and maintain themselves. However, the free market has ingenious methods by which to send a powerful message of discontent to such manufacturers. Of course, governments can interfere with such signals. In recent years, the governments of the USA, Canada and Ontario put together a rescue package for an automobile manufacturer that had declared bankruptcy. Organized labour was the main beneficiary of the bailout package and taxpayers had to foot the bill.
But the market pushes back. A few months ago, a locomotive factory closed in Southern Ontario and production transferred to an identical factory in the USA, where wages were much lower. More recently, an automobile manufacturer announced impending layoffs at their factory located just east of Toronto. The company plans to transfer production to another factory in a region where the wage rates are much lower. However, commercial property owners in Quebec are trapped, given that they are unable to transfer the repairs and maintenance of their properties to locations outside the province.
A regulation that prevents owners of commercial properties from undertaking their own repairs and maintenance on their property may discourage future ownership of commercial property in small communities in outlying areas. Instead of employing personnel at an established business or commercial location, business owners may subcontract to entrepreneurs who work from home offices or home workshops. But in some domestic jurisdictions, subcontractors who work from home may be classified as employees and their client their employer.
This can get so absurd that the client may be held liable for the condition of a work area located on somebody else’s property, despite having no legal right to enter such property. Some entrepreneurs may avoid such complications altogether by outsourcing services to offshore providers. Regulations that bestow favours to domestic labour unions may ultimately achieve the opposite of the intended result by exporting a variety of jobs overseas.
Now that a higher court in Ontario has recently struck down certain prostitution laws, service providers from that profession may work from an established commercial location. Of course, if this is upheld and spreads to other provinces, they will need governmental permission if their choose to re-arrange the furniture in a building located in Quebec, unless they are members of a union and seniority rules prevail. Then they might be free to re-arrange the furniture in the rooms and change the pictures on the walls.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.