Red tape, open for business

Jan VanderHout (pictured) and his brother Dale grow greenhouse cucumbers near Dundas, Ontario. Here, seedlings get a strong start in a propagation greenhouse.

Farm organizations and businesses in Ontario are once again being asked to respond to a consultative process on red tape reduction. Red tape reduction always has been and continues to be a great idea. I am glad that the provincial government is striving to reduce the administrative burden but I really need to ask: how is that working out for them? I heard last week from a former civil servant that red tape reduction or “open for business” as it is also called is not a novel idea and in fact more than 20 years ago this was in the works.   So are we almost there?  How do we even measure this?  It seems to me there is more regulation than ever.

I have yet to speak to a business person who is satisfied with the amount of red tape to be dealt with. Understandably there is a lot going on these days with environmental concerns, zoning issues, maximum building heights in your neighborhood, NIMBYism and so on. It is only natural that government must step in and keep people in line. If you can think of specific regulations that add undue administrative burden then I hope you will answer the call to government’s consultative process.  You can do that by going to their website at

Is this really going to fix the problem?  It might help but will it really lessen the administrative burden of running your farm business? We can hope but I believe there is a more fundamental issue here:  the role of the administrators. I am not going to center out any ministry or municipality or other branch of government because what we are talking about is systemic through all branches and levels of bureaucracy. I believe we need to look at the “customer service representatives” that we deal with in all these different government offices and the way they deal with their clients. 

My personal experience has been too often one of frustration due to the way government employees handle our cases. I feel they should be there to help us navigate the regulations so we can get back to our regular business. The sense is that they feel they are there to enforce and uphold some regulation or more likely all regulation whether it needs to apply or not and to dig until they find every regulation that might apply and let us sort it out. They think they are there to drop the heavy hand of their ministry on our operations and make us fill in all of the forms and applications and do all the required studies no matter how ridiculous and inapplicable.

The big question is what is to be done? I do not have a silver bullet for this but I do have a couple of ideas that might help. If we have frank dialogues with our MPPs, town counsellors, mayors and managers perhaps we can effect a change in the role of “customer service representatives” in the different levels of government.  We can respond to the red tape challenge with the suggestion of helping civil servants remember that they are working for us and helping business achieve their goals. We can be cooperative when dealing with government employees in order to help them help us.

As a bit of a disclaimer I have to say that not all government interactions are challenging and some “customer service representatives” are a pleasure to work with especially when we identify some of our shared goals or how we can help each other achieve our respective goals.  After all, that is the point.



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Publish date: 
Thursday, September 8, 2016

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