OTTAWA—The largest union representing federal public servants is calling on the Liberal government to repeal a law it says compromises the health and safety of Canadians, a move the Opposition warns would hurt businesses and stifle attempts to cut federal spending.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada says Bill C-21, the Red Tape Reduction Act brought into force under the previous Conservative government, didn’t lead to fewer regulations but has resulted in fewer inspections, particularly for Canada’s food supply.
The bill was passed into law just months before the Tories were toppled from power in last year’s election. The Conservatives had launched into a wide-ranging push to cut red tape, long a source of frustration for small business owners, in 2012 after a report from the Red Tape Reduction Commission, led by then-minister of state for small business Maxime Bernier.
That report called for a trimming of regulations affecting everything from food inspections to border security to health and even hemp production.
It also called for “minor” construction projects and certain waters to be exempt from the Navigable Waters Protection Act, mirroring a measure that was brought in to hurry approval of stimulus projects designed to help pull the country out of the 2008 recession.
At the time, former prime minister Stephen Harper vowed to enact a so-called “one-for-one” rule, aiming to cut one regulation from the books for every new one adopted.
But the Liberals under Justin Trudeau have let the commission overseeing the act fizzle into obscurity, and it’s time Bill C-21 was dropped as well, said Chris Aylward, PSAC’s executive vice president.
“It was an attempt, in our view, to appease small business,” said Aylward.
“It was a complete sham right from the beginning.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) had argued in favour of the legislation, seeing it as a mechanism to cut down on the unnecessary phone calls, forms and other red tape delays businesses faced in dealing with federal departments.
Bernier also vowed the government would only cut inefficient, useless regulations and not dabble with the health and safety of Canadian consumers.
Taking away avenues for reducing red tape will only make it more difficult for businesses to operate, and would go against the government’s stated goal of creating more jobs, said Conservative finance critic Lisa Raitt.
“Haven’t we beat up on small business enough yet in this country?” Raitt asked rhetorically in an interview Sunday.
“This is something CFIB has specifically studied to give Canadians an idea of how much red tape costs.”
The federation’s most recent report tallied the total cost of complying with government rules and paperwork at $37.1 billion in 2014. The average small business employee can spend more than a month each year, or 185 hours, dealing only with regulations of one form or another, said the group’s Canada Red Tape Report.
But public servants have seen an erosion of government safety inspections over the past several years, a trend that needs to be reversed in order to save lives and ensure “our skies, seas and railways, food, drugs and the environment are safe for all Canadians,” said PSAC.