Applying a pair of sharp scissors to government red tape could do small wonders for an economy still struggling with a lack of business confidence and weak commodity prices.
Just as Temple Grandin revolutionized the design of livestock handling facilities by viewing them through the eye of the animals, governments could take a business view of regulations, slicing through frustrating bureaucracy and cutting time and expense spent on paperwork that could be reallocated to better use.
Red tape reduction is good at any time, but now, when economic stimulus is needed and government resources are stretched thin, the benefits of streamlined regulation are needed more than ever.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business promotes Red Tape Awareness Week each January, arguing that while regulation is often necessary, silly rules, excessive paperwork, confusing language and poor customer service make regulation worse than it needs to be.
By its calculation, red tape costs Canada’s economy $37 billion a year and suggests about 30 percent, or $11 billion, could be eliminated without hurting human health, safety or the environment.
It is eyebrow raising that for CFIB agriculture members, regulation and paper burden consistently ranks as a top burden, bigger than taxes or shortage of qualified labour.
Its survey shows that 76 percent of CFIB farmer members cite red tape as a serious issue, compared to 69 percent for other business sectors.
Agricultural members see problems with a host of government bureaucracies and rules, such as the Canada Revenue Agency, Canada Border Services Agency, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Statistics Canada, land use restrictions and bylaws and product labeling.
Don’t get us wrong. Regulation has a valuable role in ensuring public safety, protecting the environment, promoting orderly development and generating the information needed for effective functioning of government and markets.
It is a hassle to fill out forms and answer surveys, but in the big picture this work often yields great benefits to society. One need only visit less developed countries to see how people suffer when governments are weak and ineffective, leading to corruption, inequality and lack of services.
A balance is needed when developing regulation, and governments in Canada are taking notice. The federal government and many provinces have instituted red tape reduction policies.
For example, a federal government policy has forced enumeration of all the regulations that impose a paper burden — you can’t reduce what you don’t know about — and instituted a one-for-one rule where a regulation must be removed each time a new one is introduced.
This helps reinforce the primary consideration: is this regulation the best way to reach the desired goal? And when it is, those affected should be consulted early in the rule making process.
Generally, governments on all levels would learn from Grandin’s great insight when designing livestock facilities: focus on the cow’s experience, or in this case, the experience of those who must fill out the forms.
She walks through the chutes and alleys, taking it all in from the cow’s point of view. In the same way, regulation should be designed from the business point of view, not the bureaucrat’s.
This way, government can clip the bur-eaucratic tape binding farmers and businesses, freeing them to innovate and invest.