GET SMART!: Health, Safety, Environmental Laws to Be More Business-Friendly

Article excerpt

While religious fundamentalists in the United States are said to have captured the Bush White House, market fundamentalists in Canada seem to have established a beachhead in the Langevin Block-the Prime Minister's Office.

The belief by Canadians that governments should protect their health, safety, and environment-and give it priority over the protection of profitsis under siege. Prime Minister Paul Martin appears to have bowed to pressure by our captains of industry to subordinate this public responsibility to their desire to be ever more profitable.

This assault on the public good is called "smart regulation"-a term that is code for changing the way the federal government protects the health, safety, and environment of Canadians so that it interferes less with the way corporations do business. Regulations that are "smart," in other words, are those that limit government protective measures to levels that don't inhibit corporate profitmaking operations.

The new approach is clearly contrary to the basic purpose of regulations designed to protect people. Smart regulations weaken health, safety, and environmental measures by diluting them with a free-market business agenda that favours less freedom for government and more freedom for corporations. This process is being sugar-coated for public consumption and spun as "sustainable development"-as allegedly the best way to achieve an economy that is environmentally safe and viable.

Industry Minister David Emerson set forth this rationale for "smart" regulation in a recent speech to the Canadian Association of Exporters and Manufacturers.

"We'll seek to knock down barriers to innovation and competition," he told the assembled business executives, "so as to unleash the private sector's capacity to grow. Part of this involves a government-wide initiative on smart regulations, essentially asking ourselves what is the least intrusive and least costly way to achieve public policy goals."

To foster the "deep integration" of the Canadian economy with that of the U.S., the corporate agenda calls for replacing Canadian regulations with "voluntary" guidelines and for harmonizing the regulations that remain with their American counterparts. In the event that regulations are not rendered "smart" enough for business, corporations also want a third-party mechanism that would allow them to challenge regulations and decisions about future regulations independently from the parliamentary process.

Treasury Board President Reg Alcock, in his role as the minister responsible for federal regulatory policy, is leading the development of a new framework for regulating in the areas of natural resources, the environment, health, biotechnology, food safety, and transportation that would reflect the "smart regulation" ideology. Former Ontario MP Joe Jordan has been hired to oversee this work in Alcock's department.

The Privy Council has also appointed an Executive Director of Implementation of Smart Regulation to support all the government's line departments in their assigned task of "smartening" the regulations in their various jurisdictions and help them establish priorities. …