Reducing gov’t red tape would help industry flourish

We hope that Health Canada’s easing of regulations for hemp production is a sign of things to come from the federal government.

Onerous and pointless government regulation is a problem widely noted, from Canada’s auditor general to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

A small example of needless regulation was Health Canada’s control over hemp farming under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Ottawa showed an enlightened attitude when it set aside irrational fears of “reefer madness” and allowed cultivation and sale of industrial hemp in the late 1990s.

Hemp is an ancient crop, but production in the modern context, where it would be produced for the nutritional properties of its seed and oil, was a step into the unknown — some regulation was warranted.

However, it soon became clear that industrial hemp production presented no danger to people or the environment, and as early as 2009 the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance began lobbying to reduce the red tape.

The government required growers to have a criminal record check. They needed to apply to Health Canada for an annual licence and identify before seeding the field that would be used and the exact number of acres. If they didn’t sell all the seed within the calendar year, they would have to reapply for a possession licence.

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The seed produced had to be tested for its level of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, even if it came from a variety that expresses THC below the threshold.

Year after year the industry lobbied to lessen the regulatory burden, arguing that the bureaucracy provided no benefit and held the industry back.

With the recent announcement, growers are happy they will no longer have to pay for THC testing and will have a more practical licensing process.

However, it is ridiculous that it took seven years to cut the red tape on a crop that is harmless.

This frustration with bureaucracy motivated federal Auditor General Michael Ferguson to complain in his most recent report:

“We see government programs that are not designed to help those who have to navigate them, programs where the focus is more on what civil servants are doing than on what citizens are getting, where delivery times are long … ”

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The effort it took to get the federal government to provide assistance for cattle producers with livestock in quarantine because of bovine tuberculosis is an example of a slow moving bureaucracy.

And yet we could quickly see a new host of regulations and record-keeping requirements as the government moves on its carbon tax initiative. As well, a new federal farm environmental plan initiative is in the works, which might be launched with a new Growing Forward 3 program in 2018.

A survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business released early this year found that red tape was the greatest irritant for its agribusiness members, even bigger than taxes.

It’s not surprising. It is not just government telling farmers what to do. Consumers, restaurants, grocery chains and animal rights groups all want a say.

So Parliament should heed Ferguson’s passionate appeal to think about the effects of its laws and regulation on Canadians who must navigate them.

If cut free of the red tape, Canadians and their industries could soar free.

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Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.