Robyn Benson, PSAC

Pesky red tape


The terrible fire in L’Isle-Verte a few days ago raises once again the importance of sound government regulations. In some parts of the country, seniors’ residences needn’t be built with fireproof materials, or even have sprinkler systems—and the results can be tragic. In the wake of the Lac-Mégantic disaster (pictured above), Transport Canada was forced to impose additional railway safety regulations. Food safety in Canada, once well-regulated, was weakened under the government of Brian Mulroney, and an inadequate number of inspectors still continues to leave us vulnerable to catastrophes like the deadly 2008 listeriosis outbreak.

See a pattern here? Regulations, and their proper enforcement, can literally save lives. But sometimes only a horrific mishap will make the point—and even then, not always.

It’s been fashionable for some time, however, for businesses and business-friendly governments to complain about regulations on principle. Regulations make things difficult. They get in the way of profit. Regulations, therefore, are bad.

So last week was the fifth so-called Red Tape Awareness Week, sponsored by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. And there was Treasury Board president Tony Clement, on-side as one might expect. His government is about to legislate a bizarre new rule: for every new regulation, an old one has to go.

Think about the logic of that for a moment. Old regulations do become obsolete after a time. Meanwhile, new technologies, and our increasing awareness of environmental pollution—to name but two examples—require new measures to protect the public. But these things don’t happen at the same rate. The public interest can only be harmed by such a rigid and simplistic approach.

Surprisingly, given our recent history, the CFIB is particularly critical of food safety regulations. And of new controls over the infamous Temporary Foreign Workers program, too. (After a series of abuses came to public attention, the Harper government tightened the regulations for the TFW program—sort of.)

Needless to say, the media fell into line. Knocking government has always been a popular pastime, after all. Down with red tape! Too much government! But some of the very same commentators blame the government for being too small at the same time:

Governments certainly could do a better job on customer service by addressing long lines for services and forcing civil servants to put anything to be read by the public in plain language.

It also should be possible to connect with a real person by telephone rather than requiring callers to interminably press phone digits and listen to often-irrelevant recordings.

I couldn’t agree more. As members still live with “affected” notices, the threat of layoff hanging over their heads, it would be nice if the media were to make the obvious connection between public workers and the services we provide. Not to mention that other link: between those oh-so-annoying regulations—and the welfare of the public they are in place to protect.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on February 4, 2014 8:30 AM.

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