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Ontario's 'Red Tape Challenge' a dangerous, hollow media stunt

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One person's red tape is another person's health and safety, but Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne hopes that workers won't make this connection.

Wynne's government has ripped off an initiative from the U.K. called the (cut the) Red Tape Challenge. It seeks input into how to get rid of regulations and save money in all aspects of Ontario's economy.

When the initiative was launched in March, Wynne was reported to have said this: "One of the conditions of success is to free up businesses from unnecessary paper work, inspections and reporting....This will give owners and employees more time to focus on growing their company's productivity and competitiveness and growing their business."

No word on whether or not the inspections that showed how widespread Employment Standards Act abuses are, are in Wynne's crosshairs. 

The initiative was launched at Novo Plastics in Markham. Coincidentally, Novo Plastics had just returned from a government-sponsored trade mission to India where they landed a contract, with funding from the Ontario government.

True, inspections and reporting can be a burden for businesses. Telling government how many women or racialized people work among your staff might be a pain in an HR Professional's ass. It can suck when an inspector shows up and finds that you aren't paying overtime, or that the guards on your machines are broken and that a worker might lose an arm. 

Wynne hopes to be alerted to annoying red tape through a wiki where Ontarians can react to hundreds of regulations. The process is planned to move from sector to sector until all the red tape has been found and possibly eliminated.

You can go through the comments and quickly find yourself down a rabbit hole of wackiness. For example: user JShrek says that Ontario should eliminate the Ontario Apple Growers board that sets prices on Ontario apples. "Nobody should need a license to grow food!" Fair enough, JShrek but perhaps we do want sellers of food to be licensed. If you move through the food administration section, you'll see that JShrek also wants a similar board for asparagus farmers to be eliminated and the board that regulates chicken farming gone too.

Bob Murch (business owner) and Don Smith (business owner) want the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act eliminated. Lennypuz wants the act that standardizes slaughterhouse fees to be eliminated because the slaughter of animals is cruel.

You can pretty quickly see how useful this initiative will be.

When I say that the initiative was ripped off from former British Prime Minister David Cameron, I'm not being inflammatory. It very closely mirrors his government's Red Tape Challenge. They also had an open season on regulations and invited people to engage on a website in a similar manner.

So perhaps, the British experience can help us anticipate how successful Ontario's exercise will be. Over three years, the Tory government made 3,000 regulatory changes and saved the government whopping $1.5 million.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has claimed victory over this process being introduced. And you can see throughout that it's business owners and bosses who are most involved. This makes me wonder: where are Ontario's unions?

If any unions have involved themselves in this process, or are actively boycotting it in protest, their communications has been buried by the communications of the Ontario government, because there doesn't seem to be anything out there. A crowdsourced campaign can be cheap and even fun to derail, and considering what's riding on the process's outcome, it's concerning that the Ontario Federation of Labour and other Ontario unions don't seem to have made this "challenge" a priority.

In Britain, union leaders called the Red Tape Challenge a red herring and a sham, and it seems nearly certain that the Ontario process deserves such labels too. For any money to be put into this dog and pony show is an outrage, especially one that has the potential to undermine workplace regulations that labour activists have fought for over generations.

Since launching in March, the time for consultations on the auto industry has already closed (and you can't see who said what, though you can see that 107 comments of some level of coherence were made). Food industry regulations will remain open for comment until the end of September. After that, all the other industries will have their turn, including financial services, mining, chemical manufacturing and forestry, presumably creating a cut-and-paste platform for the Liberals to use in the next Ontario election.

Between now and July 2018 when the Red Tape Challenge will be complete, Ontario's unions must find a way to involve themselves in this process. The results will either be a nightmare for working people in Ontario, or a true sham, and either way, labour cannot leave this up to Ontario's bosses to decide. With a weak opposition in the ONDP, labour's activism on this initiative will be critical.

Workers can stand up to the bosses and to the government to defend and improve regulations and inspections in Ontario. The good news is, there's still lots of time to influence this hollow media stunt.

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