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Maxime Bernier, Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism, speaks to a Toronto business conference on Nov. 8, 2011. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Maxime Bernier, Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism, speaks to a Toronto business conference on Nov. 8, 2011. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

For every regulation created one will be eliminated, Tories vow Add to ...

The Conservative government is moving ahead with a wide-ranging push to cut red tape, long a source of frustration for small business owners.

With more than 2,600 regulations already on the books, the government says it won’t approve any new ones without first taking another off the books. The so-called “one-for-one” rule aims to ensure the number of federal rules at least stops growing while federal departments take a closer look to see which ones have outlived their time.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed the effort as he responded to a report released earlier in the day by the Red Tape Reduction Commission, led by Minister of State for Small Business Maxime Bernier.

“Rest assured that we are committed to moving forward on the recommendations,” Mr. Harper said, during a photo op connected with the report.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business welcomed the move, having long called for a concerted effort to cut down on the added phone calls, forms, delays and other red tape involved with dealing with federal departments.

NDP industry critic Guy Caron said the “one-for-one” rule is a nice sound bite, but it raises questions as to whether good regulations might be tossed out in the process. “It’s a bit weird,” he said.

Also, government talk of cutting red tape inevitably raises concerns that rules protecting the health and safety of Canadian consumers could be at risk. Mr. Bernier insists that’s not the case.

“We won’t abolish regulations on safety for Canadians,” he said. “We want to cut inefficient, useless regulations.”

Regulations under the microscope:

Food Inspection

The report calls for “broad legislative and regulatory renewal” of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and for reducing inspection overlap with the provinces. There is also a call for Canada’s dairy product sanitary standards to be made “equivalent” to U.S. rules. The report says the CFIA should “increase professionalism” and be “as least burdensome on business as possible.”

The Border

On this issue, many of the report’s recommendations mimic the ongoing work of the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council. That work was recently endorsed by Mr. Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama, and business and government officials on both sides of the border are hammering out the specifics of how to speed up border crossings for business by reducing duplication.

The report calls for the Canada Border Services Agency to make Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lanes more widely available at the border for shippers.

Health Canada

The process for reviewing health claims on the food Canadians consume should be updated, the report states. More generally, Health Canada is urged to make sure its rules aren’t “out of step” internationally in order to reduce costs for business.

Hemp production

Unlike in the United States, industrial hemp production has been legal in Canada since 1998. The cousin of marijuana grows in nearly 30,000 acres across Canada to produce food, clothing and other products, and the Conservatives are keen to give the industry a boost.

Mr. Bernier’s report calls for the easing of licence rules so that they apply for longer periods, and for delays to be better explained.

“The report from the red tape commission is a positive sign,” said Kim Shukla of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance. Ms. Shukla said her organization highlighted problematic regulations to Health Canada more than four years ago to no avail.

The Environment

The report calls for “minor” construction projects and certain waters to be exempt from the Navigable Waters Protection Act, mirroring a measure that was brought in to speed up approvals of stimulus projects at the onset of the recession. “The department should aim to reduce the number of projects subject to the legislation,” the report states, in order to give business and investors a more “predictable” framework.

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