"There is no such thing as free regulation," John Hutton once said, and the British author was right. Every rule set out by government comes with a price -- both to individual freedom and to taxpayers' wallets.
Sometimes, the regulation is worth the loss of freedom or the cost. Few begrudge spending tax dollars or the loss of freedom to have the Auditor General review the province's books. But when government attempts to solve a problem that appears to be overblown, regulation becomes expensive and unnecessary.
For decades, one of the perks of living outside B.C.'s urban areas has been easy, free access to some of the most beautiful and diverse wilderness on earth. Rural British Columbians often use all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and other off-road vehicles (ORVs) to enjoy the 94 per cent of B.C. that is crown land -- collectively owned by taxpayers.
But the provincial government is preparing to tinker with the Motor Vehicle Act to bring in new regulations -- and, naturally, new fees --that will make owning an ORV a lot more expensive.
The cost to individual ORV owners, and to provincial taxpayers as a whole, could be substantial, although the government's website promoting this "ORV management framework" is suspiciously light on tax and fee details.
Henry Van Soest is a realtor in Williams Lake and an avid ORV rider. He knows precisely what the effect of these changes will be: "More tax, more user fees, less freedom, increased legal costs, and much more restriction to using our crown lands," Van Soest told the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. "Anytime you have hundreds of thousands of potential tax or fee targets [ORV drivers] government just cannot sit back and let well enough alone."
Many questions remain. How much will the ORV registration fee? What guarantees are there that the fee will remain one-time and at a reasonable level? What will that money be used for? Will expensive ICBC insurance become mandatory for every ORV?
Policing these new rules won't come cheap. Whenever a new regulation is passed, there needs to be enforcement, meaning taxpayers spending money. Will there be spot checks? ORV enforcement traps? How much will those cost, and how can a "one-time registration fee" cover ongoing, annual wages, benefits and infrastructure for more conservation officers? Or will it be downloaded onto local police forces, to add to their already significant workload? And will the police then ask property taxpayers to pay for more officers?
Will ICBC have to build a special database to monitor all of the ORV registrations? Will this cost be passed on fully to the ORV owners, or seep into other insurance rates?
Those who damage environmentally sensitive areas by driving their ORVs like idiots are already being targeted and can be fined up to $100,000. Tellingly, most of the patrols for this happen in southern B.C. -- near Chilliwack, Mission, Hope, Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and the Sunshine Coast.
In other words, this is mainly a southern B.C. problem, likely caused by a small handful of dummies who are not taking care of the wilderness they enter. Yet, it will be rural British Columbians living in the northern three-quarters of the province who will bear the brunt of this expensive regulation and unnecessary tax grab.
The B.C. government has taken several positive steps forward in reducing regulations and other red tape in the past 12 years. This flies in the face of that philosophy and ORV owners and taxpayers should write to their local MLA and ask them to rethink this plan.