When we hear about yet another intrusion of government in our lives—such as the regulation of food trucks in Canadian cities—we often just shrug and dismiss the regulation of the nanny state as an inconvenience or an annoyance. But the nanny state is not merely posing an inconvenience with its regulations based on the logic that “the government knows best.” The nanny state regulations violate our right to choose how to live our lives; therefore, they are immoral.

Take the example of the food truck industry in Canada. City governments control it, and in many places the consumers have been “protected” against food trucks until recently. For example, in Montreal they were banned altogether for more than 60 years and are operating there now on a pilot basis. The city government appointed a committee to determine which trucks would be licensed, on the criterion of reflecting Montreal’s “gourmet image” and of “added value to existing supply.” A city councilor was quoted as saying: “We don’t want traditional pretzels, with onion rings, hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken wings. We want something more refined.” One coffee truck was denied a license on the grounds of not being “gourmet enough” and of the abundance of coffee shops downtown. One objector to food trucks, a representative of the restaurant industry in the city, argued that people should buy their food and coffee from existing restaurants.

Besides deciding who gets a food truck license, the city governments also regulate where the trucks can operate, when they must close, what type of food they must serve, and even from what part of the truck to serve. In Toronto, new trucks are only allowed to operate in a few parks, so as not to pose competition to existing restaurants. In Vancouver, the city hall dictates that food truck fare must be nutritionally balanced—for example, fish and chips must be served with a salad—and must approve any major menu changes. The city council has also determined that Vancouver’s downtown is saturated, and all new trucks are sent to outlying areas.

Presumably, all these regulations of the food truck industry—or any other industry (for another incredible example, see the story about hair salon regulations in Quebec)—are put in place by the government as the concerned nanny who wants to protect everyone. The consumers are allegedly protected against unrefined and nutritionally “unbalanced” foods such as hot dogs and onion rings, and restaurants and food trucks are protected against too much competition. However, such “protection” is immoral because it violates citizens’ individual rights. For us to survive and flourish—to live the best possible, happiest life we can—we must be free to choose our own values. If we cannot choose a career we want, to run a business we want, to sell and buy foods we want because of government regulations, we are not achieving our values.

The pre-requisite of achieving values and happiness is freedom. It is the government’s job—its only proper function—to protect that freedom by recognizing and enforcing individual rights. By adopting the role of the nanny, it is doing exactly the opposite.  We do not need “protection” against our own choices or competition. The best “regulation” of business and the best protector of consumers is the free market. The rejected coffee truck applicant in Montreal, Chrissy Durcak summed it up in her comment (quoted in the National Post article in the link above): “The market will regulate itself. If there is a good food truck, there will be lineups no matter where it is. People will find it … The city shouldn’t be trying to mandate what is gourmet or not.”

The free market, in which the government’s only role is to protect individual rights against force or fraud, is also the best protector against unscrupulous businesses that are trying to sell subpar or tainted goods. Such companies will either fail to get customers or be prosecuted for fraud by the government, or both, and go out business.  The free market encourages competition, which gives consumers the most choice. Competing companies keep innovating, and both consumers and business benefit from the value being created.

To make markets free, we must fire the immoral nanny state and restore the only proper role of the government: protection of individual rights.


  1. Whenever I discuss freedom with people I am labelled a “Republican” or viewed as an exploitative “Capitalist”.

    Freedom is seen as “Oh I am free to do as I please”. What would you advise as the best reply to this?

    • Thank you for the question–and apologies for the tardy reply; I have been on vacation with no Internet access. I suggest that you only continue discussing ideas such as freedom with people who are willing to listen to your viewpoint. If they dismiss you as a Republican or a capitalist without listening to your argument, you are wasting your time. (This does not mean that you shouldn’t engage people in conversation; I think that is a good way to practice activism; however, you shouldn’t waste your time on people whose minds are closed).

      I think it is helpful to discuss freedom together with individual rights, i.e., in the sense of classical liberty: freedom from interference from others–as long as one does not violate others’ rights. Yes, you are free to do as you please–so long as you do not initiate physical force or fraud on others. You can do whatever foolish thing you want to do–but you cannot force others to pay for your actions. For example, if you gamble or drink your money away, you cannot make others support you. Freedom means the right to make your own choices–and take the consequences from your actions.

  2. Some days it is a gauntlet of nannies. For example, on the south end of Vancouver Island there are a dozen municipalities, the Capital Regional District, the Vancouver Island Health Authority, the province of B.C., and the government of Canada – all involved with health care. (I left out the Queen of Canada, who could in theory decide important things as her representative had to a few years ago in deciding who should properly be the governing party – some legal attempt by some parties against the Conservative government. And the UN, whose policies some politicians kowtow to in fear of legal ramifications if something goes wrong, they can say they followed UN policy, some of which has been formally signed up to by the federal government.)

    Within each level of fiefdom there are different agencies that people get battered between. Every delay, such as having to wait until tomorrow to start doing something because yet another approval is needed. Governments are rarely open 24/7 (funny thing that a truck permit office is, on a route to the oil patch in NE BC that the government gets tremendous royalties from).

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