Opinion: to regulate or not to regulate (air guns, bows, fireworks, dogs on beaches, outdoor cats..)

When do we regulate an activity and when do we let things be? Also, who are we affecting with new regulations?

Regulation is often considered a dirty word. Who are you to tell me what to do? 

Regulations, a rule or directive made and maintained by an authority, are of course part of our daily lives and without them life would be chaotic to say the least, unless you are camping out alone on Hutt Island. I take that back, that is also regulated.

Speed limits, food serving and preparation standards, certification requirements for certain professions, the list goes on, are all regulations that keep us safe and give us a sense of security. Regulations can go too far. This can encourage disrespect for the rules and unnecessarily limit our behaviours and our freedoms.

A recent example would be the decriminalization of marijuana. The laws were simply not enforceable, ate up too many police resources, drove the market underground and labelled over half the population of the country as a criminal (StatsCan reports nearly  50 per cent of Canadians admit to smoking marijuana at some point in their lives).  Ironically it may also have driven up use in Canada, not the intended purpose of the strict regulations, the Netherlands with a legal market had and still has a much lower usage rate.

Being on council has given me some interesting insight.  Not only people’s opinions on regulations but also what people want to see regulated. I have been on council for just over a year and we have received a number of regulation requests, including: a ban on all outdoor fires, a ban on smoking in the Cove, a ban on pellet/air guns, a ban on bows and sling shots, a ban on fireworks, a ban on dogs on public beaches and a ban on outdoor cats. The requests have always been put forward by well-meaning individuals with rational reasons for the proposed regulation. 

On the flip side, we also hear from many that we are over regulated: why can’t we camp on Bowen and what is up with all these new ferry line-up regulations? Regulations can also have a nefarious component. The tyranny of the majority which is an inherent weakness of majority rule in which the majority of an electorate can and does place its own interests above, and at the expense of, those in the minority. 

We are of course all in the majority and minority on various aspects of our lives, something regulators should keep in mind. The impacts of a particular regulation change may greatly impact a minority of residents without significant benefits for the majority.

This brings us to the obvious question: when do we regulate an activity and when do we let things be as they are? Also, who are we affecting with new regulations? 

My general bent on regulation is less is more.

Regulating activities comes with a number of issues that are often not taken into consideration but should be. Regulations cost money. They need to be backed up by enforcement which requires resources. Resources are always limited. Over-regulating without providing needed resources results in some regulations not being enforced, which then result in frustration. Fining is often the go-to tool for dealing with violations but what happens when people refuse to pay the fines? Do we take people to court? How much will that cost?

A bigger question for me is whether the regulation will have a net positive impact. Is banning cigarette smoking or fireworks going to stop people from such activities or will they hide the activities and create more problems. Banning smoking in the Cove may lead to people smoking in places away from the Cove, possibly in the surrounding forests. Might this create more fire risks?

A recent story on the CBC on new proposed vaping regulations drove home some of these points. The show visited local high schools and asked for student reactions to stricter vaping regulation changes.  The answers were interesting.  Some praised the regulation changes but the majority, non-users and users, were quick to point out some unintended consequences. Chief among the concerns, students not being honest with their parents and hiding the vaping from them and a return to cigarette use, which some had already seen with increased focus on vaping dangers.

The saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, comes to mind.

In the end, most will agree that regulations are necessary, especially as more people are competing for increasingly limited resources. 

We need to be mindful however that regulations need to be reasonable, enforceable and effective. They also need to have broad public acceptance and be properly backed up with resources. 

This is easier said than done.

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