Friday, July 1, 2005

Vancouver city council snubs Wal-Mart …

… and local residents can expect that the exercise and subsequent value of their own property is equally tentative based on the sufferance of local politicians. However, experience suggests that Vancouver residents can probably expect any peripheral economic status to suburban areas that would ordinarily result from such decisions will be compensated by provincially- and federally-mandated subsidization of urban centres.

According to the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver city council has rejected an application by Wal-Mart to build its first store in the city, despite the company's compliance with environmental standard demands made over a year after the planning process had started with the company's $20 million purchase of land for the store. Wal-Mart of course should learn from the precedents of its success and stay away from large urban centres, especially on the West Coast it seems, and build their stores in the suburbs where political obstruction techniques are not so frequently custom-manufactured for anti-capitalist activist bugaboos. But as Terence Corcoran notes in today's National Post, in a follow-up to his excellent article about The New Urban Dictatorships, the problem isn't the

little left-wing dictators, many with major links to unions and the scores anti-free-enterprise activist groups that have managed to seize control of Canada's local governments
— the problem is that Wal-Mart must in the first place make an application to do what it wants with property it already legally owns. To whom? To people whose interests in and authority over that property are directly and inversely proportional to their investment in and responsibility for the same. From Wal-Mart versus the tyranny of cities:
The real problem with the Vancouver Wal-Mart decision is not that the process was captured by political crazies and manipulated by pro-union, anti-American or anti-capitalist street fighters. Of course it was. That's the way city governments are now designed to operate. City governments have near-absolute power over most aspects of life within their jurisdictions, and what powers they don't have they are angling to take on under new deals for cities' reforms.

What should really be under scrutiny in Vancouver, and across Canada, is why city governments have been given such sway over private property and private interests. Somewhere in the laws that give Vancouver city council its authority to shoot down Wal-Mart lies the big gun of urban power, the city's control over private property. The vehicles of control are extensive: zoning regulations, land use by-laws, licensing and other powers of a general and arbitrary nature.

The reach of cities, soon to be expanded in many provinces through new laws and tax revenues, are already extensive. They ban private smoking in private restaurants and close establishments down that don't comply. They prohibit safe pesticide use on private property based on trumped up fears of environmental hazard. Any popular concern can be converted into a city power trip. Anything in the area of health, safety and the environmental is a source of fresh initiatives. What people drive, where they live, what kind of homes they can build — few things are outside the ambit of some form of control by city officials. If they're not doing it yet, they're working on it.

[…] Fighting city hall on the grounds that it is run by anti-whatever ideologues is bound to be futile. The real ideological battle was lost long ago when private property rights were ceded to local government. It makes little sense to rant about the craven ideological pursuits of city council after they were given the keys to the city. By granting local governments such big powers, we turned them into battlegrounds where ideology and politics are the only basis for decision-making.
But if there's any doubt about the kind of people who rush in for general and arbitrary power lying around where decent people fear to tread, check out the renters on (HT: Dust my broom).