Do we really need to stop two young girls, aged five and seven, from selling lemonade to thirsty cyclists on a popular bike path in Ottawa because they lack the proper permits? Do we need to fine a Winnipeg bookstore and café for not installing grease traps on sinks and dishwashers like a full-fledged restaurant? Do we have to make it difficult for a PEI couple to sell their farm to "non-residents" when they're ready to retire?
These are just a few of the exasperating regulations singled out for ridicule by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) during this year's eighth annual Red Tape Awareness Week. The CFIB also issued a challenge to each of the provincial governments: One rule in, one rule out. In other words, for every new strand of red tape a government introduces, it would commit itself to eliminating an equivalent amount of existing red tape.
No sooner was the glove thrown down than it was picked up by the government of Manitoba, which is proposing just such a "one-for-one" rule for the province. In fact, it will adopt an even stricter two-for-one rule until 2021 to help kick-start the process, according to deputy premier and Justice Minister Heather Stefanson.
Manitoba is not the first to make cutting regulations a priority. The Harper government adopted a federal one-for-one rule in 2015, although it was narrower in scope than what the province of Manitoba is proposing.
The Quebec government, for its part, adopted an action plan in the fall aiming for a 10 per cent reduction in the cost of regulation by 2018. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, this follows a previous reduction of the cost of regulation for businesses of 20 per cent from 2004 to 2014.
Most impressively, the government of British Columbia has been counting and publicly reporting on the number of regulatory requirements for citizens and businesses since 2001. By 2004, it had reduced the number of such requirements by 40 per cent, and has reduced it a further 12 per cent from the 2004 baseline, for a reduction of over 47 per cent since 2001. This lightening of the regulatory burden has likely contributed to B.C.'s strong economic growth in recent years.
President Donald Trump promised last week to "cut regulations by 75 per cent, maybe more," not in order to endanger workers or the environment, but to make it easier to run companies and build factories in the United States. This week, he added some specifics to this promise with an executive order requiring agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new rule introduced.
Red Tape Awareness Week may be over now on this side of the border, but that doesn't mean we should forget about this problem for another year. Other provinces should follow the lead of Manitoba, Quebec and British Columbia and reduce their needlessly heavy regulatory burdens. They should do so for the sake of all Canadians, from the owners of businesses large and small, on down to little girls who just want to run a lemonade stand without being harassed.
Jasmin Guénette is Vice President of the Montreal Economic Institute. The views reflected in this op-ed are his own.
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