The Hypocrisy of the By-Law World by Tom Black

Published December 1, 2013
Tom Black

Tom Black

Since the time when modern mankind decided to build permanent dwellings in close proximity to his neighbours, as in cities or towns, we have continually been devising rules by which we interact. Obviously we need some planning and structure or there would be chaos with houses popping up where roads should have been. But too much of a good thing is often a bad thing and that is the state of affairs today with by-laws being created with increased frequency in an attempt to control every facet of life for the citizens.

Now all levels of government create laws and by-laws that they feel their constituents are demanding, to deal with situations that citizens perceive as important for society at large. This system works great when the perceived problem is large, obvious and pretty much unanimously agreed upon, but it starts to come off the rails when governments become subservient to special interest groups that have a narrow agenda and decide to manipulate this open concept of government that we are so proud of in this country. Groups like the Sierra Club, the Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace and PETA all use their high profile and their large bank accounts to push aside the will of people in general and directly lobby politicians who with no organized lobby from the other side, tend to react in favour of the squeaky wheel.

Once a law or by-law is passed, the regulations must be written to interpret the essence of that legislation. Now it is time to hire more enforcement staff to make sure that the new laws are obeyed. Obviously the enforcement personnel are screened to be sympathetic to the theme of the law. For instance, if you were looking for a person to enforce the tree-cutting by-law, it is probably not going to be the guy who just set his chainsaw down after working in the pulpwood industry, who gets the job.

Well the city of Ottawa ended up with proof of how fanaticism can cloud the vision of otherwise smart people. Back in 2010 a homeowner asked the city to remove a large silver maple on city property but close to the house of this citizen. It seems that the tree needed more room and decided to move the house foundation to get it. Well city staff came back with a definite “NO” to the removal, leaving the landowner with no choice but to go to court, which he did. He WON and it cost the city $140,000 in Superior Court. Five other homeowners took the city to court that year, and won, for a total cost of $855,000 to the city, for six trees. During that same time frame, the city planted about 11,000 trees. Now you would think, that that would push the common sense button, but no, city staff pushed by external hired lawyers, prepared to draw up an appeal. Fortunately, city council got wind of it and squashed the appeal and ordered a review of the by-law.

It is very obvious that it is impossible to legislate common sense especially when dealing with zealots that are picked for a particular agenda but governments at all levels, need to take a close look at the legislation that they have already passed and eliminate at least half of it because the cost spin off of every regulation is staggering when you consider the man hours of staff, the court costs and the restriction on production of the individual landowner who carries the weight with their taxes and their loss of rights and freedoms.

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