I find it surprising that an old lefty like me find myself in the same company of the right. It doesn’t happen often. I believe in the “nanny state” because when left to their own devices, people and corporations trip over themselves on the way to the bottom. When one examines the history of industrialisation, greed seemed to trump every other consideration, so government control and regulation of the private sector is imperative to protect the people.
And yet the last few years, I’ve run into government control as a major impediment to my own efforts, and I’m starting to wonder how often such control is for the public’s good, and how much is for the protection of corporate turf?
The first example was when I started looking for ways to make an income from my sailboat. Living in a tourist community like Victoria, surely I could take people sailing and charge them for it? I have many years of experience and my vessel is large, comfortable, and seaworthy.
How naive I was.
The government regulations that apply cover several pages, and ultimately involve huge expenditures for equipment and modifications. Even if I just want to take people on a tour around the harbour.
One could assume that those regulations are there to keep people safe, but I’m not convinced. What makes me sceptical is that the key word to these regulations is profit. They only apply if you are making money. I could volunteer my boat and load her up with a hundred school kids, and only a few coast guard regulations apply, such as having enough life jackets. When we do the Variety Club’s Boat For Hope each year, we take on a number of very vulnerable passengers, and that’s fine. If it’s safe for them when it’s free, why does it suddenly become horrifically unsafe if I charge them?
Because if I was to charge them a dollar each, the paper that the DOT would dump on me would bury me. What’s the difference? Maybe it’s because they recognise that the profit motive is a corrupt one and if you didn’t regulate hell out of it, boat owners would cut corners every way they can.
Or maybe companies with deep pockets pressure government behind the scenes, effectively ending competition from smaller operators. An example would be whale watching out of Victoria. Rather than a hodgepodge of small operators, you have a couple of huge ones, with massive investments in equipment. I know one small operator who is barely hanging on, squeezed again and again by regs that keep changing, and every time they do, it costs him more to stay in business. He’s been doing this for years without mishap and yet they keep telling him to change things in the name of safety.
The only exception is sailing schools. That is one profit-based operation where these regulations don’t apply, and the only reason I can see why is that the industry remains a small one, with a hodgepodge of operators because the market is so small. Very few people bother learning to sail. Large Corporate players have no interest in it, so the pressure isn’t there to tighten up the regulations.
Far, far more lives have been lost due to boat operator incompetence (no license required for a private operator, no matter how large or powerful the boat), than to dangerous charter companies, and yet who has the burden of massive regulations? This is because the government doesn’t really want to restrict boat ownership, which generates huge revenues for many companies, but it does want to concentrate profits among very few.
The other thing I’ve been working on is restoring Volkswagen Westfalia camper vans from the 1980’s. The Vanagon campers are far superior to the old “bread loaf” buses and there are a lot of them in Victoria. They are inexpensive and far cheaper to run than any other camper. Like many others, I love these buses and enjoy restoring them. I’ll pick up one on it’s way out, repair the inevitable rust and mechanical problems, and then sell it. Instead of going to the crusher, they are recycled back into the community for the next family to enjoy. I love the work and feel like I’m doing a social good, as most folks don’t have the equipment and skill to keep them on the road.
A lot of greenhouse gas emissions are prevented by keeping them on the road, as they are the only small camper available that gets gas mileage in the 25 MPG range. Also, the longer a vehicle runs the fewer gases are released, as manufacturing of a replacement releases enormous amounts of CO2.
I’ve been doing this kind of work all my life and know what I’m doing; I don’t turn out junk. The problem is that it’s illegal. In BC, it’s illegal to sell vehicles for a profit unless you are a licensed dealer. To become one requires that you go through all kinds of regulatory hurdles including having a service shop (or a contract with one), you post $10,000.00 into a trust account, you pay thousands in fees, you take training courses, etc etc.
The excuse for this is that it is designed to protect the public from shady characters who would sell you junk. As if this in any real way prevents that; I wouldn’t trust a car dealer further than I could throw them. But what it also does, is prevent me from doing exactly what I’ve suggested above: restoring vehicles. It prevents anyone other than the Jim Pattisons from making any kind of profit from selling cars.
I would like to open a small shop where I restore and sell these vehicles. But I can’t because government regulations say I can’t. There is absolutely no harm and much good in my doing what I propose, but government has decreed that it would be illegal unless I comply with these prohibitive regulations. If safety was a concern, they could simply pass a requirement that restored vehicles pass inspection. As far as ripping off a customer is concerned, I can’t see how my selling my vans to the public would be any different from any other private seller. Caveat emptor.
But it is very easy to see how passing such laws exclude all except those with deep pockets from selling cars. Obviously, auto dealerships loathe private sales as it is massive competition for them. If they could, they would pressure government to make private selling of any type illegal –you would have to wholesale your own car to a dealer. This may not be far off, as I’ve heard of cases where municipalities have passed bylaws prohibiting placement of FOR SALE signs in cars. Where do you think that comes from? Do you think city hall is deluged by complaints?
Of course shady car dealerships have been a problem, and there are those who patch together condemned vehicles and sell them to unwitting buyers, and crooks who roll back odometers, (which should be impossible since ICBC has you record mileage when you do a transfer of ownership), but that’s not what I’m about. I don’t do this for the profit, I do it because I love the work and I think these vehicles are grand. I do need to make some money though, because I need to live. The government makes that illegal. So I’m faced with following my heart and conscience and become a criminal, or give it up. In most things in life I have followed my own beliefs and values, but government has a way of imposing real hurt if you piss them off.
It’s been quite cold on the boat lately, with both heaters going full blast and still needing the propane fireplace as backup. The most the electrics seem to be able to do is raise the temperature to 15. The furnace is needed to go higher than that. Not surprising given windchill values approaching -20. All in all I don’t mind as it’s all part of the adventure, but this is just one aspect of living aboard that Tracy doesn’t have much patience for.