Laura JonesExecutive Vice President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business
Government departments are fundamentally different from private businesses in that they do not face competition. There is no voting with your feet if you think that frontline staff are unfriendly or if forms are confusing. It’s a recipe for mediocrity or worse, unless other ways of pushing for better service can be found.
In this context, elected officials soliciting our feedback about government service improvement is a substitute, albeit a grossly imperfect one, for competition. Provincial Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction Coralee Oakes is doing just that. She is looking for your help to identify the blizzard of little irritants that arise from interacting with government.
The six-week consultation, which ends on Dec. 3, is part of the government’s broader effort to keep a lid on red tape while preserving justified regulation. The minister is looking for “simple fixes that will improve your life when you interact with government.” It’s easy to contribute an idea on the website at: engage.gov.bc.ca/helpcutredtape. It’s also worthwhile. The commitment to those who contribute is that, “While not every idea will be implemented, every comment and idea submitted will be reviewed and considered. A list of actions will be posted on the website.”
This is not for show. The minister and her staff are taking this seriously, and we know they will be looking for things to announce on the recently legislated Red Tape Reduction Day in March and during Red Tape Awareness Week in January.
The site now has over 100 comments and suggestions. Much of it is common sense. One woman describes the frustrating experience of dealing with six different doctors as they tried to diagnose her husband. Next, in her words, “We asked to see his chart, so that we could at least piece his prognosis together ourselves. We were handed a form and told it would be 30 business days. Apparently, the patient has no right to their own healthcare information. Obviously, this is not helpful.”
Not surprisingly, there are many comments on the website about the challenges of dealing with the government electronically, from not being able to save a PDF to not being able to report a personnel change for a charity’s board without declaring the former board member deceased.
The consultation is the perfect place to raise any number of business issues too, such as this one: There is a rule requiring a truck driver who is also a temporary foreign worker to get a work permit before being issued a driver’s license, while another rule requires the worker to get a driver’s license before being issued a work permit. And while we are on the topic of driver’s licenses, over 1,000 British Columbians renew their licenses each day. What if we could do that once every 10 years instead of five? Think of the time that change alone would free up for everyone, including government employees.
Broader issues for consideration include making sure government communication is intelligible, training staff to better understand the realities of the people they help, and ensuring auditors have appropriate incentives to behave professionally, with repercussions if they do not.
In launching this consultation, Oakes has created an opportunity to take action on the small but important red tape issues that don’t grab headlines but do make differences in people’s lives. Resolving them contributes to the constructive relationship between a government and its citizens that is so important. It prevents the blizzard of little irritants from undermining our productivity and our good humour. This consultation is well worth the minister’s time and ours.