Report C: THREE-YEAR ECONOMIC PLAN UPDATE
The Streamlining Initiative and the Business Task Force were announced by Honourable Joy K. MacPhail, Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations in Budget '98, with a one year mandate to reduce the cost of doing business in British Columbia and cut red tape.
The 16-person task force, chaired by the Minister, includes representatives from business, labour and government. The Task Force has now met five times and has issued three quarterly reports, as required by the group's Terms of Reference. The reports are available on the Internet at www.fin.gov.bc.ca/streamline, or from the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations Communications Branch.
The Task Force invited almost 100 industry associations to submit proposals and suggestions. A series of consultation meetings were held and written responses were received from other groups and individuals.
More than 500 suggestions have been received so far and responses continue to come in. Of these, 132 are being followed as high priority proposals by the Task Force. Of the others, 81 are duplicate proposals, 153 have been covered by streamlining projects, 76 are tax policy proposals that are dealt with in budget consultations and 106 have been classified by the Task Force as low priority proposals. Table 1 indicates the current status of the 132 high priority proposals.
Examples of some of the changes that have already been made include:
Next, the Task Force recommended that government implement a streamlined legislative process for "housekeeping" legislative proposals. This is a new process for legislative changes that are not controversial, have few policy implications and either reduce the cost of doing business or increase government efficiency. This process is not a panacea, but it can quickly deal with straightforward streamlining and red tape issues. In July 1998, a first bill was introduced in the legislature and more housekeeping legislation is under development for the Spring 1999 session.
Broader issues with significant policy implications will continue to be dealt with through the normal government legislative process.
The third initiative of the Task Force was to create streamlining projects to focus activity in priority areas identified by the Business Task Force. Table 2 lists the projects.
The following are some of the highlights of progress to date:
The Business Task Force has recommended that the Provincial Government legislate a requirement that major regulatory policy initiatives be subject to a Business Lens. The purpose of the proposed Business Lens is to ensure that, when the provincial government makes decisions about regulatory policy, it has full information about the implications of the proposed policy.
BC Business Connects is intended to make it easier to start a business and streamline routine business interactions with government. This multi-faceted umbrella initiative is being led by the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture. It includes the use of the federal business number as a common identifier for all provincial government purposes, one stop business registration available at about 30 regional sites, and expansion of the regional Canada/BC Business Service Centres to 30 sites.
Following a recommendation from the Business Task Force, the Provincial Government retained Mr. Jo Surich to conduct a process involving all interested parties to find ways to streamline the complex liquor policy regime in British Columbia. The government recently released the recommendations of the review which include proposals to increase flexibility in liquor licensing.
During Business Task Force consultations with the business community, concerns were raised about the competitive implications of British Columbia's Environmental Assessment process. As a result, a major research project is underway to compare the environmental assessment regimes in various jurisdictions and for various types of proposed projects. The results will be useful in helping the government decide whether changes are needed.
Numerous suggestions were received by the Task Force about the administration of environmental regulations and the Province's requirements for contaminated sites. As a result, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks has accelerated a planned review of the contaminated sites requirements. In addition, progress is being made in shifting from a reliance on site-specific permits to more reliance on permits and standards based on outcomes.
Forests regulation was a topic on which the Task Force received many suggestions. The Ministry of Forests has a number of initiatives underway to streamline regulation and reduce regulatory burden, much of which is already being implemented. These include the Forest Action Plan under which billing procedures have been changed to reduce costs for licensees, an efficiency initiative being undertaken jointly with interested parties to streamline administrative processes, a substantial increase in the inventory of standing timber under approved cutting permits and ongoing work to streamline the Forest Practices Code while maintaining environmental safeguards.
In 1997, the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations proposed a relatively intrusive approach to ensuring that unclaimed money in the hands of the private sector could be reunited with its owners. The business community expressed considerable concern to the Business Task Force about the cost this proposal would impose. As a result, the Ministry has undertaken further consultations and developed a considerably less intrusive alternative, relying on industry to make reasonable efforts to locate property owners and abandoning the earlier proposal. The Business Task Force is supportive of this shift in approach. The Unclaimed Money initiative will be the subject of one of the first Business Lens reports.
This area was the subject of many suggestions to the Task Force. The WCB has a number of initiatives underway to streamline administration and improve fairness for employers. These include the Employer Services Strategy to improve the fairness of the classification system and the effectiveness of the experience rating system in encouraging workplace safety, streamlining client file administration, and providing training and explanation about the new Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.
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