Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Compton—Stanstead. I will therefore be speaking for just 10 minutes, in order to leave him the other half of my 20 minutes.
I have the honour today to address my colleagues, and those who are kind enough to be watching us on CPAC, on the subject of Bill C-21, An Act to control the administrative burden that regulations impose on businesses.
I would recall at the outset that for a long time, the government called this its bill to reduce—and not to control—red tape. We can already see that there has been some backsliding with respect to the government’s real intent to deal with the problem.
Over the last seven years, a number of ministers have made numerous announcements at various locations in Canada, with much fanfare, to express how eager the government was to attack the administrative burden. The Conservatives said they wanted to reduce what they called “red tape”. They made it into a major obsession, which has unfortunately produced very little in the form of Bill C-21.
However, this is an important issue, not to say a major problem. Roughly $30 billion in time and costs are imposed on SMEs and entrepreneurship in general in Canada with forms and various other requirements. That is a lot of money. For an SME or a business, the situation is even worse in terms of its resources.
When you have more than 100, 125, 200 or 300 employees, you can set up human resources or administrative services where people can focus on administrative requirements. The business thus becomes more efficient, and in proportion to the company’s overall operations, such requirements pose less of a problem.
However, for the owner of a small business that has generated 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30 jobs through hard work, whenever a form or a request from a public servant appears, it is always handled by a single person: the small business owner. It is a heavy burden, especially for small businesses and microbusinesses. It is also a burden for medium-sized businesses, but it is even more serious for small and microbusinesses.
We have to deal with this problem, because 98% of our active businesses in Canada have fewer than 100 employees. Ninety-eight per cent. The category includes people who work very hard and have created jobs, but do not yet have sufficient turnover to have human resources and administrative departments. These people have to shoulder the administrative burden themselves.
Sixty-four per cent of employees in the private sector work in an SME; 64% of people in Canada who are not employed by provincial governments or the federal government work in an enterprise with fewer than 100 employees.
This is the sector of the Canadian economy that creates and maintains the most jobs, and it is these enterprises that have to come up with most of the $30 billion invested in time and trouble because of good old red tape.
In addressing this major and important issue, we unfortunately have serious problems with respect to the bill that is before us at third reading today. The bill embodies the government’s desire to apply the one-to-one rule, which is designed to eliminate a regulation for every new regulation made by the government.
I do not know how many times I have to drive this home. The one-for-one rule always gives nothing more than zero. We are faced with a solution whereby the sum total of what was to be an attack on red tape to liberate Canadian businesses still amounts to nothing more than zero. That is the major solution offered by this bill.
A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to have Kevin Page with us in Parliament. He gave a speech to my colleagues and me. He made a very accurate observation to the effect that when there is a complex issue, someone always thinks of a simple solution. The problem is that it is often a very bad solution.
When I think about the one-for-one rule, I cannot help but think about what Mr. Page said that day. That is exactly what we have here: a simplistic measure.
Another problem with this bill is that the President of the Treasury Board could decide to eliminate regulations. The member for Parry Sound—Muskoka is currently President of the Treasury Board and his record is not entirely spotless when it comes discretionary decisions. Take for example, the $50 million invested in gazebos in Ontario when the G20 leaders were visiting.
It is a serious problem when a bill places so much power in the hands of a single representative of government, particularly when the person who currently holds that position does not have a completely spotless record when it comes to discretionary decisions.
The Conservatives also have a poor track record with respect to workplace health and safety, and the bill says nothing about the environment.
We would not want Bill C-21, which gives the government power to tinker with forms and abolish regulations, to be exploited by a government with a very bad track record. Just think about the train tragedies that have occurred in recent years in Canada. The regulatory management that preceded those accidents was part of the problem, and it was the Conservative government that was in charge. We would not want want Bill C-21 to be used to do away with regulations that are for the common good or important for the environment.
The NDP would like the report to contain clear obligations on how we will ensure accountability in how the government will use this law and in how the stakeholders will be consulted before a regulation is eliminated. It would be very important to give that responsibility to an organization and not just to the President of the Treasury Board.
However, the nine amendments presented by my colleagues in committee were all rejected. That is just another problem with this bill, which seeks to address an important issue. We need to cut red tape, but we do not want to adopt a solution that has no effect. It is therefore difficult for parliamentarians to determine whether this is a worthy bill.
In short, according to a document produced by Industry Canada, red tape decreased by about 11% between 2005 and 2008. The report concluded that employment trends and the decrease in workers' compensation claims were the primary causes. This shows how complex the situation is.
If people are being injured at work and there is no job stability, even if we reduce the administrative burden, we will not decrease red tape. If business owners are constantly having to replace employees and if these employees are getting injured every three days, there will be no decrease in red tape. Business owners will have to deal with all kinds of hassles. This is a much bigger and more complex problem.
There are solutions, but they would require a lot more work and co-operation. For example, Belgium is working on digital solutions. Business owners send their papers in electronically, so they are not forced to send them every time a government official has a question.
Furthermore, some European countries have created statuses for microbusinesses. These countries are trying to cut red tape for people who are getting into business and who have only about 10 employees. These companies get a special tax status to make their lives easier. There are solutions that would have an impact.
Those solutions are not in this bill, and it has a number of problems. I will have to continue to think on this bill.