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Death by 1,000 Paper Cuts


Amber Ruddy

Alberta has historically had the enviable reputation of being the most business-friendly jurisdiction in Canada. Sadly though, with the provincial government seemingly content to rest on its laurels, that status is quickly falling by the wayside.

According to a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), 91 per cent of Alberta’s entrepreneurs are not confident their provincial government is committed to improving the climate for small business.

Even at the best of times, getting customers through the door is a significant challenge for many entrepreneurs. With the fragile economic recovery that is now underway, now is not the time for the Alberta government to be layering on higher taxes and new regulations.

Alberta has piled on so much regulation and red tape that half of all small business owners in the province would not advise their own kids go into business because of the costs, headaches and stress from excessive regulation and paperwork.

To be clear – small businesses have no issue with legitimate rules. Red tape is not to be confused with necessary regulation. A certain amount of regulation is important to protect human health, workplace safety and the environment.

But red tape is something else; it is inconsistent information, confusing forms, bad customer service or getting the runaround. Entrepreneurs lose hours on the phone with government agencies trying to get answers to their questions. Too often they have to comply with confusing and arbitrary rules and unhelpful customer service agents.

The current Alberta government has brought in an extensive list of new regulatory requirements, overhauling employment laws to make our province just like everyone else. We’ve also seen a series of “consumer protection” measures that take a prescriptive approach mandating practices business must adopt.

What can the government do to help? Get out of the way by cutting red tape and giving business owners more of their time back. In 2017, businesses with fewer than five employees spent almost 178 hours per year complying with government regulations.

Now it is time to look at regulations through a small business lens. It is often not one piece of legislation that concerns business owners but the series of government rules that leads to death by 1,000 paper cuts.

Alberta has entrepreneurship in our provincial DNA. Being like everyone else sets the bar too low. If the Alberta government insists on copying other provinces on policies like extensive labour rules and budget deficits, let’s at least replicate our neighbours’ successful efforts to trim back red tape, clearing unnecessary hurdles for our entrepreneurs.

Amber Ruddy is the director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @aruddy.