Cut red tape for productivity and prosperity

By MPP Toby Barrett

Next to taxes, regulation is the predominant tool used by government to influence people’s behaviour. And while no one will argue the value of regulation with respect to health or safety or our environment, a serious problem exists for Ontario’s economy and prosperity because of overregulation.

According to the Canadian Federations of Independent Business, 65 per cent of its members identify government red tape and paper burden as their greatest concern, second only to the overall tax burden. And while large companies have staff devoted to regulatory compliance, the small business owner is stuck with all the responsibility, and all the added stress.

Over the summer, I’ve heard from small business operators and farmers across Ontario that red tape is strangling them. A Leamington farmer said the situation was so bad it was like a “red blanket” that was suffocating all initiative. How can we expect businesses and farms to grow when the owners spend so much of their time filling out paperwork and navigating bureaucratic government regulation?

Even the volunteer sector isn’t immune from the red tape burden. Volunteer-run fish hatcheries, for example, which create commerce by attracting anglers and fuelling the charter boat industry, have to go through an environmental approval process to take water as if they were industrial polluters.

In the 2008 budget, Premier McGuinty promised to publicly measure and reduce the provincial paperwork burden on Ontario businesses. He even went so far as to claim Ontario would, “lead all Canadian jurisdictions” – but he never followed through with the commitment.

There are an estimated 500,000 regulations that Ontario business owners face. That’s the worst in Canada. Each of these regulations takes time and money away from growing a business and creating jobs.

Many regulations exist without creating any benefit at all. For example: The Ministry of Labour tells private businesses what paper-size certain documents like the Employment Standards Poster must be printed on – 8.5 x 14. Inspectors can issue Notices of Contravention – with monetary penalties of up to $1,000 if businesses fail to comply.

As Opposition, we’re setting a target to reduce Ontario’s regulation by 150, 000 in the next four years.
This is an aggressive target, but it’s the right thing to do. To show we’re committed to achieving it we will appoint a Minister responsible and dock the entire Cabinet’s pay, including the Premier, if this regulatory goal is not achieved.

We’ve seen this target met and surpassed in other jurisdictions like British Columbia, which set an original target of 30 per cent over three years and has, over the past decade, reduced its regulatory burden by 42 per cent. Other provinces are going down a similar path. Quebec and Nova Scotia met a 20 per cent red tape reduction target, and Newfoundland and Labrador is committed to a 25 per cent reduction.

I think everyone recognizes we need strong enforcement of critical health, safety and environmental regulation, but we don’t need to hamper job-creating business at the same time.

At a time when Ontario’s unemployment has been higher than the national average for 52 months in a row, it’s not time to put roadblocks in the way of small business and farmers.

It’s time to eliminate red tape and roll out the red carpet to business.