by Jim Bertram
Last week’s Times included a very thoughtful set of reflections on the notion of ‘Heritage’. The article provided a variety of ideas for residents to consider in terms of that concept. Before going further with this article, I would draw attention to the use of the term ‘heritage’ as it appears in the article.
The article refers to the general idea of heritage as commonly used in discussion. Its application in reference, for example, to ‘the College’ is revealed in a reference to “control over what happens to the land and the buildings”. In other words, it refers to the control of and ultimate treatment of property.
Now, as we all know, there are different types of property used for different things: homes, farms, factories, churches, schools, and so on. There are public owners, as well as private. There are responsibilities attached to ownership which owners must recognise and pay for (insurance, taxes, etc). And there are rights attached to ownership. Or are there? More on that in a moment.
But first, let’s look again at heritage. Is it just buildings which we may believe must be maintained out of historical interest? Does our heritage only boil down to that? Or is our heritage not, more generally, a set of cultural appreciations which refer to our philosophical and behavioural inheritance, as well as bricks and mortar? Our social practices? Our values?
Given that numerous books have been written on the subject which I am bringing forward in a mere newspaper article, only the briefest of comments may be made. I would suggest for the reader’s assessment the idea that a large part of our heritage is the right to own property.
I would further suggest that the right to own property in Canada, though not as strongly protected as in the United States, is one which most Canadians believe to be fundamental. A basic right. One which is part of their – dare I say it – heritage. It is a right which Canadians pay for every day in taxes, insurance costs, mortgages, property maintenance costs. Given the proximity of Remembrance Day, let’s remember that this right, and others, have been bought dearly in the past. This right is not an ethereal concept. It is at the root of Canadians’ beliefs about what they may do in the development of their daily lives. As well, it contributes mightily to the economic well-being of our country.
Just watch economists’ faces go grey when the number of housing starts drops significantly. In short, property ownership is not only an individual good. It is a part of our Canadian heritage, which contributes to the common good in general economic terms and in terms of psychological benefit to owners. Just have a look at the faces of the first time home buyer and the attention they pay to the care of their new property-cum-asset in the service of themselves AND the general good.
Given the foregoing, it is of the utmost importance, out of respect for our neighbours and their property, that we consider carefully any measure which affects said property. The owner’s right to his property must be considered to be supreme and may not lightly be tampered with by agents of government. The general notion of the common good is not well served when this is not the case. For the common good is sullied in the extreme when attempts are made to arrive at it through a process of ignoring the basic rights of even one of our neighbours. Canada’s heritage is not one of the tyranny of the majority. We, as Canadians, may justly take pride in our defense of individuals whose particularities, needs and rights should be respected by fellow citizens. We may not set such considerations aside lightly . Consideration for our fellow citizens suggests this. Our ultimate self consideration for our own rights requires it. Let us recognise our heritage in all its breadth, not merely in one small part.