Opinion

It’s been 10 years of cutting through red tape

By Laura Jones

June marks the tenth anniversary of regulatory reform in B.C.

The provincial government should take a moment to congratulate itself for its achievements in reducing and controlling red tape.

Ten years ago, B.C. was the laughingstock of Canada when it came to red tape.

The province was beset with mountains of ridiculous rules such as ones dictating the size of television sets for restaurants or prescribing how many patrons could be in a ski lodge based on the vertical size of the ski hill.

Today, B.C. can lay claim to the longest running, most successful regulatory reforms in Canada’s history. Over the past 10 years, B.C. has reduced red tape by more than 40 per cent.

The province has become a model for the rest of Canada and for countries such as Australia and Mexico, which have asked for its advice.

How did B.C. succeed when so many previous attempts in Canada failed? It boils down to some fairly simple ingredients: leadership, measurement and accountability.

Ten years ago, then premier Gordon Campbell set a target to reduce red tape by one-third in three years and ministers were required to get rid of two rules for every new one introduced. Everything was measured and reported publicly.

When the one-third reduction target was met, a new target of one rule out for every new rule in was set -a target which expires in 2012. The government recognized that without some constraints the gains made getting rid of dumb rules would quickly be lost as new ones were constantly dreamed up.

Dumb rules are a hidden tax on all of us as they make things cost more, spark frustration and waste our time. But complex and unnecessary rules are especially tough on small business owners.

These enterprises are on the front lines of the battle with the bureaucratic language, long wait times and unnecessary hoop-jumping triggered by thousands of rules from multiple levels of governments.

The majority of business owners say red tape takes time away from family, causes significant stress, and reduces productivity and the ability to compete with bigger businesses. Businesses notice and appreciate the work that the B.C. government has done to lighten the load.

But B.C. should not get complacent.

Business owners across this province want the government to build on its impressive record. They want this for the sake of their employees, their families and their own sanity.

The government should:

• Extend its commitment to zero increase in regulation to 2015.

• Develop measures focusing on government customer service to complement existing measures of regulation.

• Appoint a minister of regulatory accountability to ensure the ongoing success of B.C.’s reforms.

• Pass legislation requiring annual reports of regulatory counts and customer service measures.

Where will B.C. be 10 years from now? Celebrating another decade of achievement or looking back with regret at gains that were quickly lost because the government didn’t stay committed?

That’s up to Premier Christy Clark.

Laura Jones is the senior vice president for research, economics and weather Canada with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

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