When society wants something to happen and the leaders of the country don’t want it to happen, they have a problem. This is because of certain facts that tinge all political interactions.
Our Three Premises of Politics:
1. Whenever there is a vacuum, someone will rush to fill it.
2. The best way to treat a political problem is to ignore it; usually it goes away.
3. The decision not to act is actually a decision.
As you already suspect, trying to follow all three premises at once can get you in a lot of trouble. Take Canada recently.
First Problem: Legalizing Marijuana.
Now that the hippies of the nineteen sixties have become the senior citizens of the present century, the old attitude towards soft drugs has changed. But in the Canadian Conservative Party, nothing has changed since the nineteen thirties, because that’s the whole idea of being a conservative. The Conservatives know about this problem, but have decided to follow Premise #2, because they could lose a lot of votes from their usual supporters if they dip a toe into the modern world.
The result is that society has been moving forward and legislation has lagged far behind. Enter Premise #1. Into the gap steps the Vancouver City Council, faced with a serious problem. The courts have designated “medical marijuana” as a legal substance. Immediately shops have sprung up all over the city, selling illegally grown marijuana (there’s no legislation to provide for legally growing enough of it) to all and sundry. Since the courts have decided that nobody is going to get busted for carrying small amounts, Vancouver police have neither the desire nor the tools to deal with the problem.
But Vancouver is a city, with jurisdiction over businesses. Nobody is making laws to regulate the sale of marijuana. So Vancouver City Council is making bylaws regulating stores selling marijuana. And charging $30,000 for a license. Why not? Somebody has to. More on business licenses below.
Second Problem: Uber
I’m all for competition because it’s good for the consumer and all that, but Uber is a problem looking for a legislative solution. In the short term, it’s great, because now people who couldn’t get a taxi in peak times can get a ride, and for a much lower price. In other words, some people have found a commercial vacuum, and are filling their pockets as well.
However, like all unregulated enterprises, this service will start out by undercutting the legitimate businesses, and will continue by becoming the equivalent of a black market, with all the “buyer beware” problems illegal markets entail. To start with, the drivers have no professional training or experience, and are using vehicles with no safety regulations. And that’s before the criminal element moves in. If it hasn’t already. Uber isn’t a grassroots “freedom for the consumer” disorganization, loosely monitored by geeks in their parents’ basements. It’s a high-end cutthroat corporation with $1.2 billion in venture capital funding.
The Uber website propaganda makes a big deal about the freedom to choose and lack of expense of their business model. But our society isn’t governed by rules and laws just for the fun of it. Every business that ever started up was fine at first. Then dishonest and greedy people got into it and started pushing the limits. Safety, fairness, and legal liability concerns eventually caused government to make regulations, and sooner or later, the new business fell in line with all the old ones.
Look at “Rent-a-Wreck”. It started out saving the consumer all sorts of money by renting out old cars. However, people soon discovered that the reason you don’t use old cars is because they are unreliable. So the ages of the cars dropped and the prices rose, and now there’s no difference between Rent-a-Wreck and Avis. And they don’t even try harder. (Sorry, old joke.)
How Does This Happen?
But lets’ spread the blame around. Civic governments like Vancouver’s have created the taxi vacuum by their inane permit policies. They control the number of taxis by restricting the number of licenses. This means a bidding war any time a license is for sale. So the price of a single taxi license in Vancouver is in the neighbourhood of $800,000. If the taxi company is paying off a loan of almost a million bucks for every license they own, that’s gotta drive the price of taxis up. Hence leaving a big gap underneath, price-wise, for someone like Uber.
Look for Uber to be legislated into line in the near future, and their prices to rise to the same as regular taxis. But maybe someone will do something about bringing down the price of regular taxis as well. We can only hope.
Federal and provincial governments, sooner or later, will have to act to fill these legislative holes that allow shady businesses the chance to flourish. If they don’t, we will end up regulated by a mixture of whatever each lower form of government thought might work. Sort of like the United States, where the Feds don’t have the right to legislate much, and each state does what it thinks is best. If the upper level of government won’t do their job, perhaps they’re not fit to rule. I mean serve. You know what I mean. There’s an election coming up.
Third Problem: Minimum Wage/Living Wage.
There is a gap there that is going to get filled, whether our right-wing friends in power want it or not. More on this next week.