Some Albertans want to buy raw milk. Others want to sell cakes baked at home. Someone wants a back alley in Edmonton paved.
These are among the demands streaming into Alberta’s Red Tape Reduction department’s online suggestion box. The Alberta government wants to reduce “red tape” by one-third, hoping to make services more accessible and lighten the regulatory load for businesses. The United Conservative Party wants Albertans to explain how an unnecessary or wasteful process affects them, propose solutions, and note how the fix could cut costs, save time and create jobs. It has received 3,200 suggestions.
The first batch of submissions, obtained through an Access to Information request, range from general annoyances to detailed descriptions of instances when Albertans have been unable to get what they want. Thousands of Albertans will be disappointed with the results because reams of the complaints are beyond the province’s jurisdiction or outside the Red Tape Reduction department’s mandate.
Occasionally, the submissions reflect the purpose of the exercise: pointing to regulations under the provincial government’s control. The UCP’s criticisms of red tape have focused on business, particularly frustrated energy firms, and scores of responses in the 552-page compilation fall into this category. The government is already working on some remedies, such as reintroducing private examiners for drivers’ licences.
The grievances are diverse: Blackfalds needs a high school; the traffic lights in Red Deer are not co-ordinated; and around Slave Lake, campers have to register at campgrounds even if they’ve booked sites online. Paper health cards and daylight savings time have got to go.
The project also draws attention to obscure rules irking small constituencies. Alberta’s Skin Cancer Prevention (Artificial Tanning) Act, for example, is designed to reduce cancer.
“I like to occasionally tan in the tanning beds. It has now become an exercise of frustration due to this Artificial Tanning Law implemented by you know who in 2018,” a 62-year-old wrote. The person does not like being “grilled by some teen that is still struggling to get through puberty" for ID, confirmation of tanning goggles, and paperwork before hits of UV rays.
“When I’m in the gym I don’t have my eye glasses to do this and it causes all sorts of problems,” the person said.
The documents did not identify those making the submissions and in some cases included redactions of private information.
Melanee Thomas is a political science professor at the University of Calgary and specializes in public opinion and political behaviour. The government’s definition of “red tape” leans toward regulations for the private sector, she said, and legitimate submissions about accessing disability programs, for example, are likely to be ignored.
“This is clearly an ideological question,” Dr. Thomas said. “This is a sham."
Grant Hunter, the associate minister of Red Tape Reduction, was not available for an interview. The online input has “a strong influence on our process of identifying and reducing the red tape that Albertans experience as they start a business, organize charitable events, complete a project or simply navigate daily life,” Charlotte Taillon, a spokeswoman for the department, said in a statement.
Some suggestions address two of the government’s top priorities: attracting foreign investment and providing a financial windfall.
Take, for example, frustrations over the four orange 30-metre steel towers marking part of the province’s eastern border.
“It’s confusing which side of Lloydminster belongs to Alberta and which side belongs to Saskatchewan. This probably causes some sort of inefficiencies to happen in government when the wrong side gets involved and has to call the other side to sort things out.”
The Albertan’s proposed solution? “Sell the entire town to the Chinese and invest the money in the Heritage Fund.”
But genuine submissions – regardless of their relevance, degree of burden, or concern for risk – outnumber smart-aleck responses and partisan jabs. Responses were light on all-caps and foul language.
The Official Opposition is on board with the project so long as it does not result in chopping safety measures, according to opposition MLA Chris Nielsen.
A handful of Albertans are using the Red Tape Reduction department’s questionnaire to argue the department could reduce red tape and save time and money by eliminating the Red Tape Reduction department.
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