Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that I will be splitting my time with the esteemed member for Peace River.
I just love this bill. It is a common-sense bill that is applauded by small business.
I will walk the House through what regulatory burden is, why this bill is necessary and important, some of the key points the bill covers, and some of the potential improvements small business would see because of it.
This was one of the key recommendations of the red tape reduction action plan.
For the information of hon. members, regulatory burden is essentially government burden. I will read a bit from a posting on the Industry Canada website under “SME Research and Statistics”. It states:
The burden of government is the intervention and interference of government in the operations of a business..... It is the cost involved in complying with regulatory requirements, collecting taxes and responding to information demands from government.... it is the administrative hurdles...the delays, the uncertainties and the frustration involved in dealing with public bureaucracy.
The above definition recognizes that government burden goes beyond regulations to administrative practices such as policies, guidelines and other requirements imposed by a government department.
The article goes on to talk about some of the components of the administrative burden of regulatory oversight as it relates to small business, because there is actually a quantifiable cost. That is what is at the core of this bill.
If we argue that government regulations are a burden on small business and on business in general, why have them at all? We have talked a bit in the House about why regulations are important. I agree that there is definitely a role for government to ensure the health and safety of Canadians. Regulations also ensure that public funds are spent appropriately. They also help to ensure that there is public confidence built into things like the build-out of major natural resources projects, because we will know that the government is there to ensure that the health and safety component is there.
Certainly regulations are important, but there is a cost to having them. If there is a cost to regulations, and it is important for regulations to exist, what is the sweet spot between the two? To me it is ensuring that public safety and the health of Canadians are not compromised, that public funds are used effectively, and that we are evaluating both the positive and negative opportunity costs for business associated with developing a regulation and monitoring on an ongoing basis whether it is effective and efficient, based on the original review.
The question then becomes how we strike this balance. It is important to first define each of the components of that particular opportunity cost calculation.
First of all, does the regulation do what it says it will do? Does it address a need that has been brought forward by Parliament or legislation?
What is the direct cost in terms of staffing hours required by business to comply with the regulation?
What is the cost in terms of the impact on the public service and the public sector? Will we have to employ more bureaucrats? Will we have to put other resources in place to monitor its effectiveness or to ensure that there is compliance?
What about the certainty to business? For example, certainty of regulations often becomes a determinant of investments, especially major capital infrastructure investments, like some of our natural resources projects and whatnot. When a company is looking at putting billions of dollars into a capital investment or having an ongoing operation over a 25-year period, certainty with regard to regulations is also a determinant of investment, because it impacts the decision-making process in terms of investment or long-term spending.
Also, does this create any redundancies? What is the cost in terms of overlap with other regulations?
I think it is important to first define these areas and then to use those definitions to actually monetize and calculate the costs.
I read some of the committee testimony, and it was interesting.
I am sure my colleagues on the other side of the House would agree that sometimes regulations can create an incentive to innovate. When we have a policy question that needs to be addressed, can we put a regulation in place that incentivizes behaviour in a certain way that can create growth? More often than not, the monetary impact will probably be detrimental, but these are certainly the sorts of opportunity cost calculation factors we need to be looking at when talking about regulations.
The last component is ensuring that after we have defined them, we can actually measure these costs in the long run. We would not only measure the effectiveness of the regulation but also the costs, both pros and cons, to businesses, the public, et cetera. My colleague who spoke earlier asked why we would have this bill. It is because it would enshrine these principles in legislation and in the operating practices of government, and that is a very good thing.
Why should we have this law? I am so glad the member brought this up. The first reason is that businesses are telling us that they need this. I read through some of the committee testimony, and I want to share with the House something I thought was very impactful. Laura Jones is the executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and in committee she said:
...it is a pleasure to be here to represent [the small business] perspective on red tape. I want to be clear about one thing, though, and that is that small businesses absolutely support necessary and important regulations,...
There is an acknowledgement that regulations need to exist.
...those regulations that protect human health, safety, and the environment. In fact, it might surprise some people to know that when we ask small businesses how much of the regulatory burden they think could be cut without sacrificing those important goals, they are saying between 25% and one third. It depends on whom you ask and how you ask the question, but it's roughly in that range.... they're telling us that between two-thirds and three-quarters of the rules in the system are legitimate, necessary rules that they support.
She went on to talk about how while there is support for regulation and acknowledgement that yes, it can incent innovation, there is also a significant and disproportionate impact on small business, because the cost of regulations and the administrative burden on a per-employee basis affects small business the most. We are hearing from industry and industry groups that this particular piece of legislation would ensure that there would be certainty and monetization of the opportunity cost calculation associated with regulatory decisions.
I love that the Prime Minister said, with regard to the regulatory burden, that it is a hidden tax and a killer of jobs. I actually could not agree more. I have personally been impacted by the regulatory burden, though not in a small-business sense. I managed a significant portion of the University of Calgary's research compliance process, and I saw the burden of compliance on government-funded researchers.
It is incumbent upon us to ask how we can ensure that we still have compliance but do it in such an effective way that it is not actually impeding business from being done.
I have to give my colleague, the Minister of State for Science and Technology, a nod for acknowledging a review of that particular problem in the science and technology strategy.
I will close by talking about how this act would achieve some of these balance points we have talked about. Again, the one-for-one rule is a cornerstone of the red tape action plan and would impose new discipline across the regulatory system. It would maintain the current protection of health and safety as it controls both the number of regulations and the growth of the administrative burden for businesses.
What I want to emphasize is that the reason this is effective and necessary is that it would enshrine in our business processes the calculation of costs associated with putting a regulation in place and would ensure that it is reviewed on a regular basis. Under this particular system, it would be incumbent on the public service and on us as legislators to look at the costs that could be incurred through regulation, to be transparent about them, and to talk to people during the consultation process about the assumptions we are making in terms of costing.
By the way, I also read in committee testimony that there was some question about the consultation process when it came to regulatory review. The Canada Gazette process has been in place for a very long time and certainly supports that.
I just think that this particular piece of legislation would enshrine in legislation that practice, which would ensure the efficacy, predictability, and stability of our regulatory system for a long time to come.