July 22, 2007

Better Regulation Affects All of Us

by Brad Smith

Imagine a Nova Scotia where all provincial regulation is meaningful and clearly understood. Streamlined approaches and regulatory predictability are the standard. Irrelevant processes and unnecessary, costly complexities are dead.

Undeniably, regulations impact on company competitiveness. How many times have we heard complaints about over-regulation, confusing and time-consuming government paperwork, and lack of support from government for local products and services? At the same time though, many companies admit they don’t want deregulation, just better regulation.

Through our SmartBusiness initiative, we have been out in the community talking face-to-face with employers and hearing first-hand about the challenges and opportunities impacting on competitiveness. Since its launch in 2004, SmartBusiness has completed 1300 company consultations across industry sectors with businesses of all sizes. These employers have said that regulations at all levels of government are cumbersome and inconsistent. In ranking most important business climate factors, senior business leaders in Greater Halifax have told us that government regulation is third on their priority lists. Only workforce availability/quality and taxation rank higher.

While Nova Scotia used to attract and retain business investment based on its available labour pool, we are now seeing the unemployment rate drop and fewer people available for work. More and more businesses in a range of industries are having trouble finding staff. In fact, over half of employers participating in SmartBusiness mentioned this as a challenge in the past 12 months. Nova Scotia’s comfortable niche of labour availability has disappeared. We must now compete in areas that other cities across North America with the same tightening labour market do – competitive taxation and competitive regulation. 

Guess what? Our provincial regulators are listening and acting on this reality. The ratings and comments that the Partnership collected from local employers on this issue and then passed on to the Province contributed to the 2005 launch of the Better Regulation Initiative, a province-wide undertaking to improve laws and regulations. Government employees across all departments are making changes to how things are done and creating new regulatory tools.

This is good news. The Province of Nova Scotia has committed to reducing the regulatory burdens on businesses of all sizes to support growth. Decreasing the paperwork burden by 20% by 2010 is a first priority. Addressing time spent waiting for decisions and approvals is another.

Nova Scotia has heard similar assurances from government in the past about improving efficiencies and service times. Truthfully, we’ve seen limited results. Things must go differently this time if our province is to prosper and be a strong performer in national, and international, markets. The survival of our businesses – and our way of life – hinges on keeping government’s attention on this issue of bettering regulations. Without simpler and more effective regulation our businesses cannot compete long-term. When our businesses cannot compete, our people lose jobs and we lose our quality of life.

In short, better regulation affects all of us. It levels the playing field for business and saves companies time and money. It improves environmental protections for citizens, for families, and for communities. Good regulation safeguards our way of life.

The plans are done and concrete, measurable targets are set. Government is responding to business and promising to create a competitive regulatory environment. It is up to industry and citizens alike to monitor progress and hold the Province accountable for meeting these goals. By supporting this initiative and pushing for change, rather than expecting government to step in and solve business problems for us, we become a viable market staged for growth. We can create a fairer environment for business and a better economy and quality of life for all Nova Scotians. Let’s get on with it.

Brad Smith is Vice President of the Greater Halifax Partnership, a public-private model driving economic growth in our region.