My experience in the public policy arena includes everything from policy analysis and research to managing operational and strategic considerations for one of Canada’s largest, most effective business associations. Career highlights include:
• leading advocacy work to reduce red tape, including creating Canada’s Red Tape Awareness Week, conducting ground-breaking research projects on regulatory reform, and providing advice to federal, provincial and municipal governments on how to effectively reduce red tape
• turning around a multi-million dollar IT projects, creating a team and supporting the team to deliver results on-time and on-budget
• creating a more strategic approach to senior management planning
I am passionate about making things better–whether that be public policy, internal processes or the way teams function.
Laura Jones is the Executive Vice-President and Chief Strategic Officer at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and the creator of Red Tape Awareness Week™, which will celebrate its 11th year on January 20. She is an internationally-recognized expert on regulatory reform and chairs the federal government’s External Advisory Committee on Regulatory Competitiveness.
Red Tape Awareness Week is entering its 11th year. What inspired you to create this initiative?
Like many good ideas, it was inspired by frustration. It was the frustration that such an important issue for Canadians wasn’t getting the attention it deserves. Most of us have dealt with some kind of red tape headache—a government form that’s so hard to understand it makes you feel stupid, waiting in line longer than what feels humane or getting caught in voice-mail jail. These experiences can feel trivial on their own but their cumulative impact is huge. It’s a lot of unnecessary time and stress that’s a drag on our personal lives and the economy.
The big question was how the heck to get governments to make reducing red tape a priority when there wasn’t really much in it for them to do that. Politicians weren’t waking up in the morning saying: “I’m going to make it a priority that government is more accountable for reducing red tape!” So we decided to put the issue under a spotlight and created Red Tape Awareness Week. The spotlight drives change.
What do you do during Red Tape Awareness Week?
It’s a really fun campaign. We give out a Golden Scissors award for the best action to reduce red tape. We also give out Paperweight “awards” for dumb rules. We’ve had some ridiculous ones like the municipality that forced a business owner literally to build a sidewalk connecting nothing to nowhere as part of a requirement for a building renovation, and the government that was asking bowling allies to essentially license every lane and pinball machine in their establishments. We get people to vote on which ones they think are the worst too.
We’ve released groundbreaking research estimating the cost of regulation and its ugly cousin red tape. And for the past ten years, we’ve been issuing a report card to governments across Canada. We also do a red tape challenge. This year’s challenge is for governments to ditch the fax machine and increase the pace of digital modernization. It’s 2020, should you still need a fax machine to deal with the government?
The main thing you encourage on your report card is measuring the regulatory burden, why is that so important?
Can you imagine the government not being required to report on their taxes and spending through events like an annual budget day? That’s essentially what we have on regulation. And like taxes, regulations can be good but too much of a good thing can become a very bad thing. So we need measurement so we can have good debates and the same kind of transparency that we have with taxes and government spending. It’s crazy that we didn’t have any of that ten years ago and great that it’s starting to change.
Which provinces get As on your report card? What kind of progress are we making?
When we started no one got an A. British Columbia was the first to get one. They’ve been a leader in regulatory measurement and have reduced their regulatory requirements by around 50 percent relative to levels in 2001. They’ve done that while keeping environmental, health and safety outcomes high—it shows what’s possible. Quebec has also been measuring for a while and done a good job. I think Manitoba is currently the one to watch and I’m really impressed by how they are modernizing their systems. Nova Scotia has some really good initiatives, like its business navigator, and is also serious about measurement. It’s a bit early to tell what will happen in Ontario and Alberta but both have indicated a commitment to measurement and accountability. Oh, I shouldn’t forget our friends in Saskatchewan. Their team is committed and last year during Red Tape Awareness Week they launched a really good web-based initiative encouraging citizens to bring forward examples. You’ll have to wait until January 21 to get the full report card but there really are a lot of strong players this year.
What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened as a result of Red Tape Awareness Week?
During our second Red Tape Awareness Week, the Prime Minister announced a Red Tape Reduction Commission. Out of that came the Federal Red Tape Reduction Act—also known as the One-for-One legislation, where one regulation and the equivalent burden has to be removed for every new one implemented.
Canada was the first country in the world to create this kind of legislation, which essentially puts some brakes in the system on the otherwise unchecked proliferation of rules. It’s not perfect but it was an important step forward. And I’m really proud that almost all MPs voted to pass the red tape reduction bill. There was only one vote against. We are lucky in Canada that politicians of all stripes understand the importance of regulatory modernization and reducing red tape.
I also love it when we solve specific problems for people. We had a business owner raise the issue of the excessive permitting for bowling allies. We made it a Paperweight Award and it got fixed.
I really like being able to say thank you to government staff for doing good work in this area. People are so surprised. I often get the response that “no one ever says thank you.” It’s the right thing to do and, of course, it encourages more of the right kind of work.
What exactly is red tape and why is it such a problem?
Red tape is government rules that are excessive, unreasonable or just painfully outdated. We flag ridiculous laws like BC’s Community Benefits Agreement, which requires construction firms working on provincial projects comply with 336 pages of rules that go as far as mandating employees be served steak once a week on warm dinner plates. But we also highlight bad government services that Canadians encounter every day, like the Government of Canada’s websites, which are excessively difficult to read and navigate.
But red tape should not be confused with good regulation. There are a lot of rules that are necessary and important to promote health and safety and protect the environment.
In what other ways does CFIB help businesses navigate red tape on a day-to-day basis?
Do you have any advice for business owners with respect to red tape?
Big picture, I talk to a lot of business owners who feel that this is a pretty hopeless area. At CFIB we have an informal motto: “We never give up. We never go away.” That’s how we are with this issue and things are changing for the better. One of the things I admire about small business owners is how gutsy they are, including being gutsy enough to tell their red tape stories publicly. This encourages change.
More specific advice is to get advice in writing from the government, especially if you could be audited on it. And, of course, don’t be shy to pick up the phone and call CFIB if you need help. Our Business Resource line is 1-888-234-2232.