Nannny State and the New Quebec

Where will it stop?

By —— Bio and Archives--June 12, 2009

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We have railed against the control state mentality of government for quite some time now. We have warned that the slippery slope of politically correct social engineering policies and politics is steep and swift in its descent into nothingness. Our use of the term nanny-state has become so ubiquitous that many said we were out of touch with the “new” Quebec.


Well, as troubling as Quebec’s latest foray into the état-nounou is, we are pleased that it has progressive francophone voices troubled too. This foray involves the oversight by state authority of the relationship between parent and child. Though, as always, it is clothed in the most altruistic of motives.

The Quebec government has introduced legislation making it an offence for a parent to smoke in a car if a child is in it. Obviously, smoking in front of an infant in a small enclosed space is not the most intelligent or responsible act. But herein lies the rub. How far is the state to be allowed to go? And more importantly, where will it stop?

As Le Devoir’s Denise Bombardier has pointed out the role of the state should be “pedagogical” not punitive when it involves private actions in private domains. If the state can regulate an issue like smoking, what is to stop it from sending say food inspectors to make sure meals are prepared without any trans-fats?

Health Minister Yves Bolduc’s logic is impeccable of course. He stated that though smoking is a free choice, second hand smoke – particularly to an infant – is not the child`s choice. True enough. But neither are the ingestion of trans-fats. Or to go even further, neither is the age at which a parent decides to teach their child to bike or skate. Should we have control regulation to prevent broken bones?

As Bombardier has pointed out, bad things in life will happen. It takes courage, and honesty, for elected officials to tell that to citizens. If they fail to do so, then we will fall victim to Benjamin Franklin’s warning of centuries ago that “Those who would trade permanent liberty for temporary security shall in the end have neither liberty nor security.”

Government must be a teacher not a nanny nor a brute. The state has a legitimate role – and may legitimately spend – to educate and persuade, but not to compel or coerce.

The state is their to serve individuals, not demonize them. We have progressed as human beings. When people see someone hurting or abusing a child – even a slap on the bottom in public – people react to protect the child. The power of what Bombardier called “reprobation sociale” is stronger than even the force of law. Our officials should get that.

The power of punitive law as a successful preventative measure is highly questionable. There is usually more push-back than acquiescence. Even the anti-smoking measures have now proved ineffective as the number of smokers has ceased to drop and in fact have risen in teens. Human nature eventually reacts against suffocating statist dictate.

In the case of parent and child it is even more important to remember that. And further, that if the Quebec Charter of Rights recognizes in section 7 the inviolability of private domain, how much more important is it to recognize the inviolability of relations between parent and child. We are not talking here of ignoring child abuse. That is another matter. But the sight of police officers pulling over cars and ticketing parents is something that should trouble us all. What personal behavior in personal domains shall be beyond the reach of the state? What price freedom? And more importantly, when will we understand that the state cannot solve all problems?

We as individuals need to take responsibility for our lives and not assume that it is the state`s role to solve all problems and protect against all ills. It cannot do that. If this latest venture in nanny-statism is not just another tax-grab and Mr. Bolduc really believes this kind of intervention is acceptable and appropriate, we are all in for some Orwellian days ahead. Jeremy Bentham wrote at the start of the industrial revolution that “perfection is the enemy of the good.” M. Bolduc, are you listening?


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Beryl Wajsman -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Beryl Wajsman is President of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal editor-in-chief of The Suburban newspapers, and publisher of The Métropolitain.

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