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THE CONVERSATION: Stefanos Karatopis

Niagara West Libertarian candidate Stefanos Karatopis. VOICE PHOTO

Niagara West’s Libertarian MPP candidate explains his vision for government

BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
The VOICE

No matter how close attention I pay to an election campaign, I am always surprised when I step into the voting booth and see the full litany of names. Not only did the 2016 provincial by-election in this riding have the usual four parties, also crowding the page were candidates from “Stop the New Sex-Ed Agenda,” “None of the Above,” “Independent,” and “Canadian Constituents.”

None of these candidates, I suspect, were quite as colourful as perennial Libertarian Party nominee Stefanos Karatopis, who by his own estimation has run four or five times in various elections.

“It’s pronounced ‘STEF-a-nos.’ If you say ‘Ste-FAN-os’ I become Italian instead of Greek,” he joked to the moderator at last Wednesday’s candidates’ debate.

Libertarianism, a philosophy which advocates for immense individual freedom and microscopic government, enjoys substantial popularity in the United States, but in Canada it is largely a fringe phenomenon outside Alberta.

None of this has dampened the enthusiasm of Karatopis, who first became engaged in the ideas about a decade ago and has grown more fervent since.

Last week, I met Karatopis at the Grill on Canboro on Fenwick. After a very brief lead-in, he put this fervency on full display. Not only a critic of government (he compared it to a “cancer” at last week’s debate), Karatopis is happy to embrace other non-conformist positions, particularly when it comes to climate change and the environment.

But while Karatopis is clearly an iconoclast, he is remarkably pleasant while being so. Even as we sparred on a number of issues—he even tried to play the age card—he laughed incessantly.

In the end I couldn’t tell if he was just having a good time, or if he was in on the joke, the one where people think that the Libertarian philosophy is merely an irrelevant bunch of kooky ideas.

Still, it must be said that the party is running 117 candidates across the province, nearly one in every riding, and the fifth-most overall. Politics across the globe appears to be trending to the poles: the left to the far left, and the right to the far right. If this happens in Canada, Karatopis’ party platform may not end up being so far on the margins.

PICCOLO: How many times have you run before?

KARATOPIS: Oh boy. I’ve run in Niagara Falls, and in a by-election year. This is the fourth, fifth time now.

Fifth time. So people probably know your name, they’ve seen some signs around. I’ve seen a car with signs—is that your car?

Yes.

People have heard of you, but I don’t know if I’ve seen any lengthy interviews that you’ve done. This might be the first time that people are hearing you in-depth. I read your profile on the party website—it said you’ve lived in West Lincoln for a long time and you had a chicken farm—but I don’t know too much about you.

We got out of the poultry business in 2011—I’d grown up with it all my life. Always been on the farm there, always operating a family run business. I branched out to computers pretty early on, was running a home business in computers. Back in 2007 I would have never imagined myself doing what I’m doing now.

So you weren’t political before then?

No. I owe all of this to Pelham, actually. Back in the day, around those years, there was a bylaw that was not respecting property rights, not respecting the trespass laws. It was a bylaw officer who was intruding on people’s properties. We also have a place down in Pelham, my parents own a place here. We ended up having a big problem, ended up charging [the bylaw officer] privately. Eventually the Town did away with her. I had the Town in court after that. We settled out of court. I can’t say anything bad about the bylaw officer we have now. He’s much better. But that’s what got my interest in property rights.

Before that, you voted?

The way I voted before that was—we were all Liberals at one point in time. My father back in the seventies was a Libertarian. He was president of the chicken producers marketing board at one time. My father was very much involved. Myself at those ages, I didn’t know anything about politics. I did what everybody else did: vote because your parents tell you to vote.

Then you forget about it until the next election?

Yeah. I started branching out from there. I’ve helped numerous people across Ontario, from Ottawa to here in Niagara, helping them out with property rights when it comes to government, be it Ministry of Environment, municipalities, conservation authorities. When bylaws are being passed that shouldn’t be. I’m property rights. A good friend of mine was Bob Mackie, and what was done to him shouldn’t have happened to anyone, at the hands of the Niagara Environmental Council. It was a portable archery range that wasn’t hurting anything. He was even teaching people with brain injuries, a way to get their hand-eye back. Near the time when he passed away he was getting ready to train students.

They gave him a hard time?

Should never have happened. It wasn’t restricted.

So property rights is what got you interested in the party. But Libertarianism stands for much more than just that. Obviously when you think of Libertarianism you think of very low taxes, if any—

Right. Regulation. We got to get rid of a lot of regulation.

What sorts of regulation would you like to see gone?

Anything that’s restricting private business. There’s compliance, say for bringing the building up to code type of thing. You have an old building, it’s an old bylaw that it’s under. Once those codes change, if that building was already there, it’s grandfathered. We’re having a lot of this being imposed where it’s retroactive. These types of things in general are very restrictive.

Libertarians want to see a reduction in the size of government, and a lot of the services provided by government instead done in the private sector. What services do you think the public sector can do a better job than the private? I know if I asked that question the other way around, there’d be a long list…

Health care is a great one. I think that as private we’d able to do health care a lot better. Markets would equal themselves out. There’s been already a Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that we should have private health care. It’s unconstitutional to not have it.

You mean entirely private? Or an option?

An option. It should be there. We’re not here to say, “Forget the OHIP system we have.” We’re saying you can keep the OHIP system, or go to the private.

The thing about that is that people say you’ll end up having a two-tiered system. People who can afford it go to the private system because the care will probably be better. If the wealthy take the tax money that would otherwise be going to the public system and spend it on their own private care, they’re going to have better care but the public system is going to deteriorate so much that the people who can’t afford it will be left in the lurch.

I don’t see it that way, because you wouldn’t be removing all this money from the public system, it’s staying there.

So people couldn’t take their tax money away?

They could take their ten thousand and put it in the public, or put it into the private. Something like that. People are worried about some people going to the private to get care—that’s happening now by going to the US.

But they don’t get to take their tax money with them.

No, but it’s still not—they’re not all wealthy. I know a lot of them, and they’re even going to Mexico to get it done at their cheap prices. So the way we look at it is, if we have a private option doesn’t mean that it’s going to be skyrocketing prices. That will take the strain off of the public system. That’s going to keep our doctors working in Ontario. We have a shortage of doctors.

Well we have a shortage of doctors but also a shortage of funds in the system to pay doctors…

Right. Why is that? We free up this kind of stuff, our taxes are getting reduced because we don’t have to pay for this kind of stuff any more, and it’s more money in our pockets staying there, so we can afford these. It doesn’t mean the prices will skyrocket because it’s gone private—that’ll create competition, they’re not going to charge something that’s—the market will level itself out.

So you’d like to see a private option in health care. What about education? How would you assess the public education system?

Oh boy. Again, we should have some options there for parents to choose where their kids will go, all across the whole thing. And even for homeschool too. Much better to have options—a lot of our schools now have nothing to do with education, it’s more of an indoctrination by government, cultural Marxism. The whole sex-ed curriculum thing.

Is it the age that they’re teaching things at that’s the problem?

Right, the age. They’re seeing things, and the teachers will teach it to them. But are they going to understand? They’re way too young.

As far as that goes, initially the conservatives under Patrick Brown said that they were going to close the debate. During the leadership campaign, a couple of the candidates said they were going to re-open it. I think Doug Ford’s position is that he’s going to look at some of it. People will ally Libertarians with a conservative party. Do find yourself sympathetic to the Progressive Conservatives? Or do you see them as the same bunch?

They’re all definitely the same. What’s the difference between an NDP or a Liberal—maybe you’re looking a four percent increase in something. I believe that Doug Ford said that he’s going to entertain the option of the universal income. So what’s the difference? The Liberals already have that pilot program—it’s just so ridiculous. They’re all the same. That’s why we term them, “The BORG.”

The BORG?

Yeah, the BORG. The Blue is the PC. The Orange in the NDP. The Red is the Liberals. And the Green is the Green Party.

So even the Greens don’t escape?

Oh god no. The Greens—they’re just in a world of their own. But back to the sex-ed thing, one of the questions was, “Oh, don’t you think we should teach them about transgenderism so they can be accepted in society growing up?” And sure, I’m one hundred percent for teaching them. Is a seven-year-old going to understand that? I don’t think so. If you protect the individual’s right, you’re going to protect everybody’s rights. When you start making groups, one for LGBT, you know all the different groups, that causes a divide among everybody. We’re seeing that now with white privilege. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. There’s actually a candidate running for mayor in Port Colborne who has said that Ford is white privileged—are they even fit to be mayor? As your job as an elected person, you have to represent everyone. It doesn’t matter who it is. To me, that’s hate speech. You’re mentioning the white race, that’s hate speech from my understanding of the criminal code from reading it. This kind of stuff just goes to show the type of divide it’s causing amongst everybody.

When it comes to Libertarianism, you think of liberty. You signed your emails, “Yours in liberty,” which, by the way, I think is great. How would you define liberty? In the modern context, we think of someone like, I don’t know, [Rolling Stones rocker] Keith Richards. He does—or did—whatever he wants, whenever he wants it, making all these personal decisions. But you have to think of also the ancient conception of liberty. The ancient Greek philosophers thought liberty was actually about self-discipline and controlling the appetites, that someone like Keith Richards was actually being tyrannized by his appetites. If he wants to do something, he does it—that’s a form of tyranny. When it comes to Libertarianism, I think of it more connected to the modern form of liberty, being able to do whatever you want in your own domain.

Sure.

Is there any place for government—or society—to impose or to have restrictive guidelines and conventions?

The good thing about having a legal background is that I get to read a lot of case law.

And you’re a paralegal?

Yes. Reading a lot of decisions—the society doesn’t matter. It’s to the individual. And if you read the constitution it guarantees individual rights and freedoms. The property rights is a great example. We can do anything we want on our own property, as long as we’re not interfering with our neighbour. We’re not causing harm to anybody. That’s where your responsibility comes in—you’re not going to go and dump toxic chemicals all over my property—

And then it leaches into the neighbour’s pond.

It’s going to get in the water table. And then I’m not going to go grow on it and send it in to the food market.

So that would be an environmental regulation that you’d be in favour of?

I wouldn’t be in favour of any environment regulation—

But you just described one there.

Well yeah, but that’s under personal responsibility and not causing harm, that’s in common law and that goes way back.

But that could be classified as an environmental regulation.

Okay, if you say it’s an environmental regulation would we need overlapping laws? Why would you need a regulation on top of a regulation?

I see what you mean, but I think the argument would be that if you have a sector of the government specifically devoted to that area they’d have expertise—

It’s great that you said it again? Who’s going to be the expert here? Some guy who’s gone to school and studied environmental studies.

Probably…that’s who I’d want doing it…

Or the person that has been farming all their life, work the land—we’re not going to destroy our own stuff. There’s already common law in place. We don’t need this regulation.

You talked earlier about markets working themselves out. Is that how you see the whole renewable energy issue, and fuel-efficient cars and such?

Oh that stuff all has to go. It’s just trash. It’s garbage. It’s straight-up garbage. We have Tim Ball—I know Tim Ball, he’s a professor, a scientist. He has won his lawsuit, a libel lawsuit, and he won his lawsuit against Michael Mann. There’s absolutely no evidence of man-made climate change. Also Obama was sued for the same thing.

He was sued for a lot of things, by a lot of different states.

We’re talking just by normal people.

Sure, by a lot of normal people too.

But again, there was no production of any of this.

So you don’t think that any climate change has been caused by human activity?

Hey, I’ve been around—I don’t know how old you are. I’m forty-eight, so I’ve been around a little bit longer than you have—

Sure. But there are lots of people older than I—and you—who believe that climate change is caused by human activity.

Of course. I’m not even going to go there on that one. You can put that to indoctrination. When they started pushing these things, there was climategate, climategate two, the environment stuff all of a sudden. Then you have the movies start coming out, The Day After—fear mongering. That’s all that that is. When I was growing up, it wasn’t climate change, it was acid rain. Where the heck is that now?

Well, environmental regulations came in and they stopped it.

No. The green energy stuff has to go. There’s no way that if there’s environmental impact going on today that making you pay to pollute is going to change that.

You don’t think that a financial incentive would make a difference?

I’m going to be wealthy manufacturer. I’m going to pay all sorts of money so that I can pollute. Then maybe I’ll pay a little bit more so that I can pollute more. Is that going to change the environment?

The idea is that if you have to pay to pollute, you might be more inclined to invest in technologies that would reduce your emissions. That’s the idea, anyway.

No, it doesn’t work. It goes into the government’s pocket and that’s that. Remember, governments are monopolies.

That’s true.

They shouldn’t be there. Anytime the government touches anything it’s always a bad outcome. It always has, it’s proven over and over again.

What did Ronald Reagan say? The most frightening words in English are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Yeah. Not only that, but they said that if communism ever came in it would be in the form of liberalism or socialism. One of those things. My favourite saying is that socialism is a kind word for communism. Because people do not associate it with that. You can reinvent it any way that you want, but it’s still communism at the end of the day, and it will still fail every time, because we’re a democracy. Take a look at Venezuela. Socialism’s doing great there.

Certainly that’s not a good thing going on there.

If you want to go back to renewable energies. I would say that whole scam needs to just go away. It doesn’t save us money in any way, shape, or form. I’ve had properties that I’ve looked at from the Land Registry. The amount of money that’s going in to these turbines. Each host farm used to be thirty million dollars lean on each farm that has a turbine on it. Now, there’s seventy-seven of them in West Lincoln, just in the one project. Times that by thirty million. Even if you end up working out the interest on that thirty million, through the lifespan of the turbine, it wouldn’t even pay the interest on that. And now that it’s been sold a couple of times, now they’re $1.5 billion on it now. And it’s the Bank of Japan. Where’s the money here? This is coming out of the taxpayer’s pocket, $10 million subsidy on each turbine. There’s nothing green about green energy except for the money.

When it comes to these sorts of things, the idea behind libertarianism is if you let the market be free, they’ll be sufficient competition that the companies will balance themselves out and the price will hit an equilibrium. When it comes to something like energy, there’s so much initial investment required in the distribution of it that realistically it’s not possible for another company to start energy production in Ontario. It might have been a hundred years ago, when the market was young and the wires were being strung. Say the province sells off all of Hydro One and OPG too, it’s entirely held in private hands. Without the possibility of competition, do you really think that the private sector would keep the price low on that?

I think it would. You would still get other companies coming in.

From where though? Where are they going to run the wires?

They don’t need to run the wires, I believe, because it would be just to connect to the grid.

But why would Hydro One let them connect to the grid if they’re just going to compete with them? They own the grid.

That’s the same as saying, “Why let the wind turbines hook up to the grid?” They’re all private energy.

That’s what I mean. The government’s letting them now, but if it were a private corporation in charge they wouldn’t them.

But they are a private company, and they are letting them. They’re building their own infrastructure on the roadways, and they’re connecting straight into the grid. Those are all private companies. The Green Energy Act needs to be done away with. They have to disconnect all of these wind turbines, all of this other stuff, disconnect from the grid completely. We have far too much hydro right now, we can’t use it, and we’re dumping it off. We sell it, and we’re paying for the loss when they sell it for cents a kilowatt. And then they pay the wind turbines to not produce energy. Does that make any sense? I might as well send you home and pay you to not do any work. We might as well just pay you to stay home.

That wouldn’t be so bad.

Yeah, but we’re footing the bill here, so it’s a big problem.

When it comes to other government regulation, a few weeks ago Doug Ford launched a furor when he mentioned opening up the Greenbelt. Pelham is a conservative area, sure, but I think that a lot of people are wary of urban sprawl and development, keeping things rural. By the sounds of things, you’re not a big fan of the Greenbelt.

I’m not a big fan of the Greenbelt at all. Again, this is coming down to a UNESCO designation. The United Nations. What do we have to do with them? Not only that, the whole thing about this Greenbelt—there was a case, the Lynch case. Lynch versus the city of St. John’s. The city lost, they tried to appeal to the Supreme Court, they wouldn’t hear it because it was the proper ruling. In that particular case it ends up being an expropriation of land. They were trying to say it wasn’t, but it turns out it was a constructive expropriation of land. And the judge in that ruling yet again said that it’s expropriating the right of the owner to develop it. Every owner has a right to develop their land. Does Greenbelt protect farmland? No. Is it any type of protection? Sure. For government, when they want to develop on it. That’s the only time. Look at all the Greenbelt around Toronto that got built up on. When you put designations on private property, you’re devaluing that property. When you get wetland, conservation, development restrictions, next thing you know that property is worth next to nothing. If it’s agricultural, it’s worth next to nothing anyway. You’ll get a developer come in when the government decides to develop those areas, and the developer will come in and buy the land for next to nothing. The government makes money from all these permits, these regulations that do not need to be there. With Doug Ford saying that, what nobody ever said was that Kathleen Wynne has this year so far seventeen times developed in the Greenbelt. So she shouldn’t be the one throwing that stone at the glass house.

Certainly you’re right that it devalues the property value for the owner. I’m not familiar with that case in St. John’s. I guess the opposition would come from people who say, “I’m living in a rural area. Even if I keep my property rural, I don’t want the whole area around it to develop.” Is your response that, “Well, you only have control over your own property”?

That’s right. My land is not for your use and enjoyment, such as your land is not for your neighbour’s use and enjoyment. Thundering Waters is a great example. Lakewood development in Wainfleet. These are private developers. These are private properties trying to develop. Significant wetland over there in Thundering Waters. They say it’s important to our water quality. If nobody knew that there was a wetland there and it was paved over, would anybody know about that wetland’s existence? I highly doubt it. I’m going to accredit all this stuff to what I call eco-terrorism. It’s the fear-mongering yet again. There was a big stink about the Lakewood development. That was way back when approved. They challenged it at the OMB and they lost. Then they tried again and the OMB tossed it out because it was already ruled-on. That whole development is all privately owned and maintained, none on the public purse. And the taxes are still being paid to the Town. So that’s actually a great asset to Wainfleet. I’d rather have homes around me than these giant wind turbines. How many trees were destroyed with those? There was tens of thousands of trees across the municipality. These are no way green at all. No way. Not possible.

Back to the property idea. It seems based on the idea that during your lifetime, you’re going to worry about yourself and interests, and I’m going to worry about mine. Now the “eco-terrorists” at Thundering Waters would say that all of that leads to short-sighted decision-making. People thinking only in terms of their own lifetime, rather than what’s good in the long term. A crisis of individualism. You can’t have everyone on their own tack because there’s going to be so many intersections of interest that conflict is inevitable. Everyone in a ring around Toronto wants to develop their property and make a lot of money. Then one day we have no farmland within five hundred miles, and it’s so expensive to bring food in so people can’t afford to eat.

I’ll ask you this question. Farmers—do they have a responsibility to feed people?

They have those signs all over: Farmers Feed Cities.

They do feed cities. But is it their responsibility? Legal, moral, or ethical?

Them individually? I don’t think so. But is that really pertinent to the Greenbelt matter?

If I was growing my chicken crops, or my cash crops, I could just keep them for myself and for my family. I have no responsibility to feed anybody in the city.

Yeah. But I think that as a society we might like it if there were farmers that could easily provide food to cities…

They might like it but that’s too bad. It just doesn’t work that way. Private property is very important because that’s where you accumulate wealth. This is how you make a living. The big problem is this cultural Marxism that’s being imposed here is starting to say that no one should own private property, it should belong to everybody, because owning private property is a social injustice.

Well some people may say that, but to be honest I don’t hear that a lot. Certainly the parties aren’t saying that.

No, there’s a lot. I even had a councillor in Hamilton, when I was pushing the issue, that’s what came out in the end.

So you think that even if they’re not saying it overtly, that’s what—

There’s an underlying.

I’m not going to get into psychoanalysis here.

No. I won’t get into that. But you know, this is why this kind of stuff—that’s what’s causing the divide, that’s what’s causing the problem. We need to get rid of that kind of stuff. That has to go. You know what they say, a country divided is a lot weaker than one that’s united.

Right. But—

This is how we’re kept subservient, shall we say.

But if you look at society now, people are really uprooted. The church is gone. Families are different. People move, they don’t stay in the places where they grew up. People are all spread out. The idea of liberal democracy is that there’s a civic nationalism—it’s the one thing that everyone has in common. It seems that Libertarianism wants to get rid of the government, and get rid of civic nationalism. What would unite you after that? The church is gone. Families are gone. Culture is gone—there’s more global culture than ever. If the government’s gone, what unites people?

People. People do. You need to bring the churches back. Who am I to tell you that you shouldn’t be a Catholic. When I was a kid in school when religion class came up, they had the Jehovah’s Witnesses sit in the hallway. Then eventually they took religion out of school. Then all of the acceptance ideas came in, and that’s, you know, fine. It’s been taken to the point where they’re bringing religion back into the school, but it’s only certain religions. It’s unconstitutional. How this freaking Liberal government got away with this kind of garbage is beyond me. I can only blame the ones giving these bills royal assent and the whipped votes.

We’ve covered a lot.

I could go on, too.

I’m sure. Anything brief that we missed that you think is important?

No, I summed it all up. This cultural Marxism has to go out. We need to tone government way back, back to the basics. What will unite people is people. You take care of your neighbours. If there’s a disaster, you take care of your neighbours. You see that when these hurricanes happen, all the relief funds. The money usually disappears. It’s people who rebuild, it’s contractors. We see the restore, Habitat for Humanity, stuff like that. Need to bring it out of government hands, and back to the people. People look after each other.

Well, thanks very much.

Thank you.

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