Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to talk about Bill C-21, An Act to control the administrative burden that regulations impose on businesses. I am not altogether unhappy about this bill, but I do have some reservations about it. “Control” is a key word in the comments I am about to make. This bill tackles what our Conservative colleagues opposite usually call red tape, or administrative burden.
The title says “control”. That is pretty deceptive, and it is why I am somewhat pleased, but not unreservedly so. Since 2007, Conservative ministers have repeatedly made announcements having to do with reducing the administrative burden. I have lost track of the number of times that the Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism, and Agriculture has announced, with great pomp and circumstance, that there would finally be a 20% reduction, that 96 items and 306 sub-items would be removed. This idea of reduction has been floated and promised to entrepreneurs and small business owners in Canada for ages. Now we have this bill, which purports to minimize the damage.
Despite all that, the NDP will support the bill at second reading. I would like to remind our listeners that second reading means that the bill will go to committee, where members can make suggestions and debate more tangible solutions to ensure that there really will be a reduction in the administrative burden for SME owners in Quebec and Canada.
Just last Thursday, I was in Rivière-du-Loup, where the president of the Fonds de solidarité FTQ was giving a presentation. Among the 80 people in attendance were many small business owners. There was one entrepreneur in particular, a young man who got a small business up and running again five or six years ago.
The business must be about 30 years old, and since the young man started it up again, it has gone from 30 to 120 employees. I know him, because I visited the company nearly two years ago, when I was the official opposition critic for SMEs. He said that business was good and that the Germans were interested in a product he developed a year ago.
I asked him if he had had any support from Canada Economic Development, because it could be good if the Germans wanted to purchase cases or shiploads of his product. He said he had tried everything, but he would not do business with CED. I asked him why and he said it was so complicated that he gave up.
Nonetheless, he had good things to say about other organizations. The CFDC helped him when it came to writing certain reports, but he gave up on Canada Economic Development. He now has a German purchase order to deal with and he has to find solutions and capital, but the red tape at Canada Economic Development forced him to give up on asking the federal government for help. That was just last week.
This is something the party across the way has been going on about since at least 2007, but the results on the ground and within a number of federal services are more than disappointing for business owners. Bill C-21 makes good on a promise made by this government in the Speech from the Throne to enshrine the one-for-one rule into law.
When I hear “one-for-one” I think of the word “unbelievable”. I went to three media events across the country where Conservative ministers said they were finally going to reduce red tape using the one-for-one rule. In committee, I reminded the Minister of State for Small Business that one minus one equals zero and that the government could not present a plan to reduce red tape when the only concrete solution on the table equals zero.
We need to be talking about negative numbers to be talking about a decrease. My nine-year-old son understands that. We need to be talking about negative one at some point in the process. We have before us a bill that is once again based on the idea that plus one minus one equals zero. However, were intellectually honest enough to call this a type of limitation. They dismissed the notion of reduction. They took a step in the right direction in terms of showing respect for Canadians' intelligence, but a step in the wrong direction for the well-being of Canada's entrepreneurs.
The other arguments made by my colleagues deal with the lack of focus on the environment, for example. Given the Conservatives' values, they could use this to get rid of the regulations that they do not like and implement the ones they do. We do not have a lot of confidence in them when it comes to the environment or public safety. I completely agree with the concerns that many of my colleagues have raised since the debate on this bill began.
I would like to use the last three minutes to talk about a possible way to find a solution and to let you know about Industry Canada's evaluation report of the BizPal service. According to the report, if we were to invest time, skills and money in the short term, this system could be very profitable for everyone in the long term. The idea is that entrepreneurs can go on online. They currently go into the BizPal system, to find the regulatory forms they need to make some sort of application, to confirm that they have complied with certain environmental regulations before building their restaurant, for example. In reality, 90% of the time they find the document that they have to print, fill out by hand and send by mail. They then have to wait for a response by phone or letter from a public servant. So much for 2.0. That is not even 1.0. Is there such a thing as Web .6? We are not even close. That is an example of a direction to take that would require investment.
Allow me to give an example. When people need to fill out reports or do regulatory surveys and reports online, would it be possible to ensure, for example, that every time they type the SME business number—which would be assigned by the federal government— all of the information, including the owner's name, address, the date the business was set up, shows up on the screen? I have some news for the members opposite: if we invested the necessary resources, that would be possible in 2014-15. Crazy, right? With that kind of approach, if it is well carried out, it is feasible that small businesses could cut the time spent on regulatory administrative tasks by 20%, 30% or even 40%. There have not been any studies on it. I do not have the numbers, so I cannot tell you what it would cost. What I do know is that there are other administrations that have looked into tangible solutions like this one and that have invested good money. However, the return on investment is impressive when multiplied by the thousands of entrepreneurs who save hundreds of hours each year over decades. Altogether, it is very profitable, even if the initial investment is costly.
We absolutely have to come up with real, complete solutions that will bring this information exchange with entrepreneurs in 2015 to the Web 2.0 level, and soon. We do not want to end up in 2035 with entrepreneurs who have someone working full-time behind the scenes printing forms and typing in the company's name every two weeks instead of serving customers. We have to achieve that objective as quickly as possible. The red tape reduction goal for SMEs is a top national priority, one we all share, and we have to make it really happen with real solutions.
I am also thinking of non-profits. I have met with people who run non-profit organizations with really important missions, such as literacy and supporting people with intellectual and health problems and so on. These people spend an inordinate amount of time justifying $1,400 grants. In any discussion of red tape, we have to consider all of the administrators in Canada, whether they work for non-profits or SMEs.
When we talk about red tape, we have to consider all of the administrators in Canada, whether they work for non-profits or SMEs.