Business View: Victoria tackles red tape

Unnecessary bureaucratic process is a hidden tax on creativity and family time

I am the daughter, the granddaughter and the niece of B.C. small business owners. I’ve seen firsthand the impact of red tape on businesses.

It has a negative impact on jobs and prosperity and it’s a huge hidden tax on creativity and family time.

Ten years ago the Liberal government in B.C. committed to do something about that hidden tax. It has done what no other government in Canada has done — it has stuck with it. B.C.’s tapecutting effort is Canada’s longest running, most successful regulatory reform.

The accomplishment has been tremendous: a 42 per cent reduction in red tape since 2001 without compromising health, safety or environmental goals.

There was a lot of low-hanging fruit. By the late 1990s the province had a reputation for regulatory excess.

Forestry companies staggered under the weight of a forest practices code that set guidelines for what size nails to use when building a bridge. Restaurants were hobbled by rules dictating the permissible size of televisions.

Mining companies rated B.C. as one of the worst jurisdictions in the world for regulatory duplication and inconsistencies. Even children suffered: They were required to have two environmental permits to bring a tadpole to show and tell.

We’ve come a long way. But until last week there was no commitment to keep a lid on red tape. Red tape reduction exercises tend to be here today, gone tomorrow. B.C.’s long-running reforms could disappear with a change in government.

Former B.C. premier Glen Clark once admitted: “We were an old-fashioned, activist government with no more room to spend so we regulated.” All you have to do is look east to Manitoba and Ontario to know that his breed is not dead.

That’s why last week’s announcement by Finance Minister Kevin Falcon that B.C. will pass legislation requiring an annual report on regulation is so important.

Enshrining regulatory accountability in law makes it much harder for any future government to undo the good work that has been done.

It’s an important win for small business owners whose lives are made miserable by red tape from all levels of government. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that red tape cost Canadian businesses $30 billion a year. Seventy per cent of business owners say red tape causes them significant stress and 62 per cent say it takes time away from family.

Other provinces including Quebec, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland have introduced regulatory reforms in the past five years but nothing is permanent. Once the promised legislation is passed, B.C. will be a model for others government in this country serious about creating an environment in which entrepreneurship can flourish.

Permanently controlling red tape promises huge rewards — more creativity, lower prices, more jobs, and more time for family. It’s exciting to imagine a country where this is possible with B.C. leading the way.

~ written by Laura Jones, Sr. Vice-President Research, Economics & Western Canada with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.