Smart Regulations

By Holtslander, Cathy | Canadian Dimension, July-August 2005 | Go to article overview
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Smart Regulations

Holtslander, Cathy, Canadian Dimension

REGULATIONS ARE BORING, bone dry and tedious, right? Red tape--better to get rid of it! That is the type of message you are likely to start hearing, as the "Smart Regulation" agenda for Canada rolls out. It is sure to get some support from those of us who feel we are under siege from constant demands for more paperwork. But take a closer look. Is "Smart Regulation" really smart?

Regulations are the rules that we make, via various levels of government, that define the scope and conditions of legal behaviour for businesses and individuals. The ability to regulate is a fundamental aspect of sovereignty. Regulation is the mechanism that makes the policy rubber hit the reality road.

The business class in North America has been chafing under the "irritation" of Canadian regulations. Minor differences between U.S. and Canadian regulations are making it hard to do business, they say. In 2003, the federal government responded to their hurt by appointing the External Advisory Committee on Smart Regulation (EACSR) to come up with some recommendations about how the process of regulation and the type of regulations in Canada could be "improved."

The EASCR, which included corporate directors from the petroleum, biotech, pharmaceutical, hydro, coal, agri-business, mining, security-intelligence and financial sectors, reported to the prime minister in September, 2004. Paul Martin affirmed his commitment to implementing its recommendations in his subsequent throne speech.

The EASCR articulated a vision that is quite alarming. Protection has a bit part in this vision, while the market is the superstar. The vision statement confuses the regulatory role creating boundaries and limits on companies' behaviour with the commercial role of promoting economic expansion and trade. "Smart Regulation" is not about efficiency and streamlining government. Rather, it is an integral part of deep integration, the process that would merge the Canadian and American economies.

Because regulation is a widely ignored topic, far less exciting than kickback scandals or vote-of-confidence brinksmanship, deep-integration strategists understand that regulatory harmonization is easier to deal with politically than overt policy integration.

The North American Agricultural Market Integration Consortium outlines in its "Roadmap to Agricultural Policy Integration" that "systematically pursuing harmonization one step at a time has the basic advantages of preparing and levelling the agricultural infrastructure for change while allowing a gradual adjustment to the newly evolving economics of agriculture and food." The same paper notes that "harmonization can be taken one step at a time. However, with each step a degree of national sovereignty is lost, which may be the greatest deterrent to harmonization."

Under "Smart Regulation," safety, health and protection take a back seat to innovation, participation in the global economy, competition and other market-based values. According to renowned philosopher Jane Jacobs, such an admixture of "trader" and "guardian" functions produces a "monstrous moral hybrid," since the ethics of the two are incompatible, even mutually exclusive.

The sectors that the EASCR focused upon were manufacturing and product approval; the automotive industry; the drug-review process; the chemical manufacturing industry; biotechnology; First Nations economic development; environmental assessment; and oil-and-gas exploration and development.

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