City Hall needs a good decluttering

A one-in, one-out rule for policies cleans things up and cuts the red tape

Nobody at City Hall sets out to make ridiculous rules or unmanageable processes, but that’s the result when there are no checks to control the clutter. Rules pile up over time like too many sweaters, DVDs, and old magazines spilling out of an overstuffed closet.

We regularly hear about red tape clutter from small businesses dealing with their local City Hall. There’s the business in Smithers, B.C., forced by the municipality to pay to build a sidewalk, connecting nothing to nowhere, in order to get a permit to renovate.

There’s Montreal’s borough of Plateau Mont-Royal, which stacked up costs on business owners by banning PVC plastic chairs from outdoor patios, forcing them to replace perfectly good furniture. And then there’s the book store café in Winnipeg that was forced to shut down because serving a bit of mayo on sandwiches required an industrial-strength grease trap.

Some municipal governments seem so used to the piles of red tape that they don’t recognize they have a problem. Citizens are being hurt in myriad ways, from the stress red tape creates for small business to the extra costs it lards onto housing. It’s time for municipalities to follow the lead of many senior governments in Canada and do something about it.

The most important remedy is a simple one. Those who keep their closets clutter-free know how it works: a one-in-one-out policy. For every new municipal rule that comes into force, one needs to be eliminated, so that when a new government rule is needed, it doesn’t just get added to the pile. One out-dated or unnecessary rule is eliminated at the same time.

Various versions of this “one-in-one-out” policy are proving very successful. The longest running example in North America is British Columbia’s regulatory cleanup. Back in 2001 its provincial government set out on a major decluttering exercise, putting in place a one-in-two-out rule to achieve a one-third reduction in regulatory clutter over three years.

Once the reduction target was met, one-in-one-out became the new standard. Garbage bags of dumb rules, such as the one dictating the size of televisions allowed in restaurants, were sent to the curb, and the province’s citizens are better for it. The B.C. one-in-one out policy was so successful at eliminating red tape while maintaining high levels of health, safety, and environmental outcomes, it’s now an international model for reform.

Federally, Canada has become the first country in the world to legislate one-in-one-out for its regulations. It too has proved successful at reducing compliance costs, although it does not apply as broadly as B.C.’s, so some old CDs, magazines, and other junk still gets a pass.

With the successes we’ve seen at the federal and provincial levels, we’re now challenging our cities to clean up their regulatory excesses by committing to their own one-in-one-out policy.

So how about it City Hall: are you ready to clean up your red tape? First comes a commitment to do it, next comes putting the old Christmas sweaters and DVDs to the curb, and finally a one-in-one out policy to keep the closet clean. Like the old Christmas sweaters, no one will miss your red tape.

Laura Jones is Executive VP, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

Jordi Morgan is Atlantic VP, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

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