Sweeping changes that will lighten the red-tape burden on small businesses will not diminish public health or safety, Treasury Board President Tony Clement insists.
The minister, who on Monday announced measures to trim regulations affecting smaller companies, said in an interview that important controls to protect the public will not be affected.
“It is not going to have an impact on public health, public safety or protecting the environment,” Mr. Clement said.
“Those have all been ring-fenced. This is really about duplicative paperwork that retards the ability of small businesses to concentrate on what they do best.”
Mr. Clement said the federal government is responding to widespread requests from small businesses, for whom “this is one of the big issues.”
The new rules – which will be put in place over the next three years – involve changes to specific regulations, along with broader reforms to the way the government sets those rules in the first place.
Among the systematic reforms, Ottawa will require that when any new regulation is created, at least one existing one must be eliminated.
That policy was actually put in place in spring, but has now been included in the broader suite of rules.
Public servants have been instructed to use a “small business lens” to evaluate any new regulations that might have an impact on smaller companies.
They must also ask whether the information they are gathering is already collected, whether there is a less burdensome way to get it, and whether communications are in plain language.
Any new regulation will also have to be flagged in advance, so companies can prepare for it.
Laura Jones, executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the most important element of the changes is the annual scorecard that will track and report what has been done. That will keep the government’s “feet to the fire,” she said.
Ms. Jones said the regulatory burden is the second biggest government-related issue for small business, falling just behind the overall tax burden.
“Red tape is an insidious drain on the entrepreneurial spirit,” she said.
Under the new program, about 90 specific changes to existing regulations will be be made. For example, any company that wants to become a “trusted trader” so that it can speed goods across the U.S. border, will only have to fill out one set of forms instead of the current two – one for the U.S. and one for Canada.
Small businesses will also be able to use one account – and account number – for all their dealings with Revenue Canada. Currently many businesses need multiple accounts for different issues, such as tax filings and human resource deductions.
Businesses will also be able to delegate their accountant or lawyer to be their contact with Revenue Canada, something that is difficult to do today.
Departments such as Agriculture Canada were told not to eliminate any regulations that have to do with health and safety issues, Mr. Clement said.
“It all has to do with packaging requirements that differ region to region, size of containers for export, these kinds of things,” he said.
There is no shortage of rules that can be eliminated, he said. “We have a backlog of about 3,000 regulations that we think should be systematically reviewed, many of which have outlived their usefulness.”