I have an artist friend who is planning to move to the United States. Regulations pushed this free spirit over the edge.
She recalled travelling recently to a large Canadian park for inspiration but was ticked by all of the signs telling her what she could and could not do. The most offensive was a sign telling visitors to use the washroom at the park entrance because going in the bushes is prohibited.
She decided not to enter the park and passed through a native reserve where she stopped for gas and told a native woman about the sign. The native woman recalled that her father, on his death bed, said that eventually the day would come when the government would tell people where to sh–.
They both laughed.
It reminded me of the Ontario election campaign that is so painful to watch. Everybody wants to know what each party is going to give them and each new promise will be like one more sign in the park telling us what to do. Every scripted audience question in the first two debates wanted big, fat, bloated government to get a little bigger to help poor little me. We heard all the questions that were not on most people’s minds.
“What are you going to do make it easier for me to take the GO-train?”
“What are you going to do to stop cops from carding?” (As if cops are now the bad guys).
The news media that controlled the debates singled out questions from voters who expect government to do more, to spend more, to take care of them more. Of course, it means introducing a new tax or regulation to get it done.
I’ve got news for them. A lot of people don’t want government to do anything more. I want the government to do less.
Even children are over-regulated. Two Ottawa girls who set up a lemonade stand along a bicycle path last year were shut down by Ottawa’s fourth level of government, the National Capital Commission. This is how it ended: Children between ages 5 and 17 must now get a permit to operate a lemonade stand on NCC bicycle paths, fill out a two-page form, adhere to strict hours of operation and are recommended to attend a training workshop before opening for business. Proudly urging our children to be creative go-getters, the NCC interjects: “Not so fast, Abigail.”
Sadly, regulatory headaches are so commonplace that we don’t even realize their burdensome cost — bookkeepers and accountants for starters — which saps the country of its entrepreneurial spirit. Ontario businesses are the most regulated in the country, hampered by an estimated 380,000 regulations. Farmers are worse off, facing more delays than other industries because of regulations.
Barked an annoyed specialty crop producer: “Every year we apply for foreign workers and every year we get a different case manager and every case manager has a different set of compliance rules.”
The National Post reported that the average business spends 105 business days each year on regulations. Statistics Canada figures the average business with five or fewer employees paid $6,683 in regulatory costs per employee in 2014. Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called regulations “a silent killer of jobs.”
In a January report this year, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business surveyed farmers and found 40 per cent said they would not advise their children to start a business, given the burden of government regulation. Worse, 93 per cent said that their regulatory burden is growing.
One infuriating regulation is the provincial hammer that crushed neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybeans seeds. Relying on studies that proved nothing about the real-life use of neonics, the province introduced new regulations that created such an onerous burden of research and paperwork that many corn growers simply stopped using neonics altogether. If it weren’t for innovative U.S. seed companies which came up with an alternative seed, corn growers would be sticking pitchforks in Premier Wynne effigies.
What to do?
The Ontario Liberal government had the right answer years ago when it came up with a plan that for every new regulation, two regulations must be scrapped. But the government ignored that wonderful idea. U.S. president Donald Trump picked it up and now de-regulation, as much as tax-cutting, has been credited with increasing U.S. employment while raising business optimism to levels not seen for a long time.
We’ve all read how counterproductive raising taxes can be. There is an income substitute: Taxes generated from growing businesses when you reduce their regulatory shackles. Eliminating useless rules and services would also generate private sector jobs.
Here’s my advice for the next government: Stop choking our freedom. Simplify the rules and cut them down to a manageable size. In short: Get the hell out of the way.
Patrick Meagher is editor of Farmers Forum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org