Sunday, August 17, 2014

Law, Legislation and Liberty - State Paternalism - Exemplified by Liquor Control

Excerpt from a letter sent to Attorney General & Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton

Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton

“When we announced B.C.’s minimum prices, along with the introduction of happy hour, we were clear that we’d keep a close eye on how these prices impacted consumers and businesses. Creating a new category for draught beer in servings over 50 oz. is a fair balance for consumers that still takes into account the views of business owners and health and safety advocates.

You have a large constituency who are offended by this government’s departure from “liberal values”, “free market mentality” and, as well, a seeming general unwillingness to let adults manage their own lives. I have no interest in government determining the price of liquor for any reason; there is a market to take care of that; your comment is indicative of a growing propensity for government to “protect us from ourselves”. No matter what the form, state paternalism needs to be confronted.

State paternalism is ugly enough here, it has more dire consequences in other areas of public endeavor such as in the medical system, where people are impaired from caring for themselves due to regulation, or in the fact that Veterinary medications are now restricted so people are unable to attend to their animals of their own accord for a reasonable price.

British Columbia’s liquor laws are arcane and archaic – like all legislation, liquor laws should be simple and pose as limited an impact on individual choice as possible.

You reference fair balance, I assume this is some way related to the Fair Balance Test the courts apply to determine whether state infringement Section 7 of the Charter is appropriate or not. One could argue that the entire anti drinking and driving complex, from the legislation to enforcement is a charter breach; blood alcohol level is in no way an indication of impairment against a broad societal standard, in is an arbitrary number and nothing more. We should concern ourselves more with impairment relative to a minimum standard of capacity, because it is a safe assertion, that 80 year old Mr. Jones having taken two anti-anxiety pills and some cold medicine is more impaired than the average British Columbian at .05 or .08 blood alcohol level.  I am afraid that “morality” has eclipsed reason in the drawing of and in the execution our liquor law, as it has in many areas of government policy. For BC’s liquor laws to withstand the “fair balance” test, there has to be evidence of a threat to society at large by an individual’s actions – breathalysers and blood alcohol levels offer no means to identify risk to the public against a general standard – only competency testing can.   

Neil E. Thomson

Further Comment  

This minister’s comment from a web commentary sparked the re-emergence of an old passion in me, a passion that finds its genius in having been taught that in Canada we are allowed to manage our own lives, so long as our actions pose no direct threat to others. There has been an insidious increase in governments further intrusion into our personal lives; it is reaching epic proportions. Please, take a moment to do a dependent origination analysis on your interface with society at large and then assess where government is involved – it seems every breath you take the government has a hand in it, or a finger in the pie. This individual minister is a sincere person who has taken to government to “help” and she sees her role as having afforded opportunity to manage the consumption of alcohol on the part of British Columbians. The point is, I can manage it on my own thank you, absent the government making a product I like to enjoy more expensive.

The government takes about $.70 of every dollar you spend on liquor, this is an outrageous levy, it is a levy founded on the belief that “sin” taxes have moral grounding. The fact that the intervention in liquor is founded in morality rather than rational thought, is substantiated by the fact there are many products on the market in the way of foodstuffs that are more damaging the remain unfettered. 
The intrusion in to the area of liquor consumption is emblematic of a growing propensity of government of manage our lives. I submit that the whole liquor “control” complex is in breach of the Charter of Rights and freedoms. The 70% tax, the price variation to deter consumption of certain product over another and other government actions, are all an infringement on my liberty, that is to say, the government has created distortions in the liquor market that impact my choice by taxing that choice in a manner the supersedes the norm. The government’s justification for this is to reduce liquor consumption generally, in doing so however, they require that I pay more for the “fixed” amount of liquor I consume – this is patently unfair – I am being punished for the actions of others. The government is using its authority – through fining the use of a product - to reduce my choice, when my choice poses no threat or harm to society at large. This action fails to make muster against the backdrop of the Fair Balance Test to determine appropriate infringements of government on my section 7 rights.   

It is a habit of government to take our money and then return it to us should we conform with governments view of the world, to effect a change in behavior by taxing an action or delivering pecuniary reward to do something is a clear an attempt by government to effect a change in choice and that translates to an infringement on liberty. For government to manage human interface, corporate interface and other institutional interface to facilitate the human endeavor, some intrusion is necessary. For government to walk into the living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms or the homes in general of the Canadian pollution, is an affront to the individual to exercise them self as a free agent.  

The encroachment of government into the private lives of people must be arrested, and reversed in many cases. The government is systematizing earlier and earlier intervention into the people’s lives, parents no longer get to parent, the government works every day to institutionalize early childhood development. The application of state authority to “manage” the moral judgment of the citizenry is an outrage; in this case the government openly states it is managing liquor consumption by changing the price of liquor. At what point does this foray into personal choice end? There are people wanting to tax French-fries, fine in activity – over consumption and inactivity are deemed to be immoral in some quarters – so now is the government going to make mandatory 1 hour of daily exercise and tax calorie intake. Every time I have the government intrude on choice, I am offended – we should all tell, all governments, we can run our own lives – given governments' track record juxtaposed against how the vast majority of Canadians run their lives, we will all be better off if we can make our own choices.      
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