Published on July 28th, 2012 in the Ottawa Citizen
By Mark Brownlee
He used to blockade highways, stack hay bales in front of government offices and lead farmers on illegal hunts for deer that were eating crops in the Ottawa Valley.
These days, he is organizing academic conferences and drafting legislation. During his transformation from activist to his area’s MPP, Randy Hillier never changed his goal of erecting a barrier to government regulation of private property.
What has changed, though, are his tactics in trying to reach it.
“As an MPP, I don’t engage in the civil disobedience to the same degree,” he said with a laugh as he spoke on the phone from the back porch of his home in a recent interview. “I have a different set of tools available to me as an MPP, as an elected person, than when I was not elected.”
Hillier personifies the change that has taken place within the movement that first rose to prominence in the early 2000s. That’s when, as president of the property rights organization that is now the Ontario Landowners Association, he advocated a “rural revolution” that would force government to change its approach to problems unique to rural areas.
The shift in approach will be evident this fall when the provincial legislature resumes sitting.
The opposition Progressive Conservatives plan to introduce a private member’s bill that would compensate property owners when government regulations prevent them from using their land for their own economic benefit.
Hillier cited new draft guidelines the province is currently reviewing that would, if adopted, prevent property owners from cutting down trees and building roads if there are wildlife like garter snakes and tadpoles on their land, as an example. This, he said, hurts economic development by making it impossible for some owners to develop the land and sell it off.
It’s only fair that the government pay the owner of that land for taking away some of its value, he said, comparing it to a city paying a landowner for expropriating territory to be used for a newly constructed highway.
A spokeswoman for the ministry of natural resources, Jolanta Kowalski, declined to comment on the proposal because they haven’t yet seen the bill Hillier plans to introduce.
Landowners who have properties designated a “significant wildlife habitat” under the draft guidelines he is referring to would not receive compensation because they “do not restrict economic development,” she wrote in an email.
Hillier will also be participating in a conference to be held in September in Ottawa. The Canadian Property Rights Conference will also feature talks by several academics on the issue.
These are all steps along the way to having the line between the rights of government to regulate private property and the people who own that land clearly defined in the Constitution.
The approach is distinctly different from some of the tactics Hillier, a former electrician known for his trademark suspenders, adopted when he was head of the Landowners Association.
About 50 people joined him on Ferguson Falls Road in Lanark in 2003 to illegally hunt deer he said were eating away at farmers’ crops, costing them thousands of dollars in lost revenue. He believed it was taking the government too long to deal with the deer issue, which even the minister responsible agreed was a problem.
He also helped block Highway 401 with tractors and stacked hay bales in front of a Ministry of Natural Resources office in Kemptville.
The tactics were at times crude.
Despite his own shift toward pursuing the issue using legal means, Hillier doesn’t support this court battle. He’s concerned the Crown grants were misleading people into thinking they could operate without any government regulation whatsoever.
His public split earlier this year from the organization he helped found shows how much has changed with the issue during the last 10 years.
Hillier said civil disobedience will always be a tactic available to members of the public, just not to him as a member of the provincial legislature.
But he said his role as MPP for has given him more influence than before.
“When you’re an electrician leading up a Landowners Association, to get the public interested in and aware of what your concerns are is not the same as when you’re an MPP,” he said.