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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The "right to water" is a phony right

In today's Globe and Mail, Maude Barlow argues that the federal government is now obligated, under United Nations treaties, to recognize a "right to water" throughout the country. More specifically, she wants the feds to install safe drinking water and sanitation systems on the numerous aboriginal reserves that don't have them.

But if such systems can be built, then they can be purchased. There is nothing to stop the people on those reserves from constructing such systems for themselves, or paying others to build systems for them if they personally lack the knowledge or skills. That's what everyone else in Canada has to do. Barlow is simply demanding that aboriginals be permitted to use other people's capital instead of their own. But why should they have this privilege?

I live in an Ontario village with about 250 homes. My household's drinking water comes from a well, and we have installed our own filtration system to ensure its purity. Our waste water goes into a septic system that the earlier owners of this home paid to install. Thousands, if not millions, of other Canadians have similar water and sewage arrangements, all paid for out of their own pockets.

The so-called "right to water" that Barlow subscribes to cannot be a genuine right. Certainly, everyone does have the right to stand out in the rain on their own property and collect the water as it falls, since it falls for free from the heavens and doesn't require anyone else's labour. But the situation changes when you start demanding that purified drinking water be piped directly into your home. That requires someone's time and effort. If you don't put in the time and effort yourself, someone else will have to do it. And if you're claiming the right to other people's time and effort without paying for it, this is tantamount to claiming a right to enslave them.

Like other "positive rights" the so-called right to water violates the genuine rights of individuals to life and liberty. It's a phony right.

Monday, July 04, 2011

What if Canada treated education the way we do health care?

Many Canadians have a firm conviction that health care must be a publicly-owned monopoly--i.e., that allowing individuals to purchase private care in competition with the public system would spell the end of the public health care system.

But we allow parallel systems of public and private education.  All taxpayers are forced to pay for the public system, but we don't coerce all education consumers into accepting only the public system.  People are free to educate their kids at private schools if they aren't happy with the public schools, so long as they are willing to pay extra.

Canada's treatment of health care is premised upon the notion that health care is indispensable, crucial, important, etc., etc.  But surely education is also indispensable, crucial and important, isn't it?  Yet the existence of private schools has not undermined support for the public school system, as medicare advocates claim would happen in the medicine market.