A new red tape working group has been established to examine ways of improving on business inefficiencies in the NWT, said Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek in the legislative assembly Wednesday.

The group, first announced in Wawzonek’s budget address on Feb. 3, is a way to streamline processes so small and medium-sized businesses can operate more effectively.

The body is expected to hold its first meeting on an unspecified date in February, said a Finance Department spokesperson.

March 31 deadline

Its membership is comprised of Kelly Bluck, fiscal policy director with the department; Jacqueline Demers, assistant deputy minister; Marty-Ann Bayha, regional superintendent for the Sahtu region with the Department of Industry Tourism and Investment; Sara Brown, CEO of the NWT Association of Communities; Jenni Bruce, co-chair of the Business Advisory Council (BAC) and president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce; and Kyle Wright, from the Norman Wells and District Chamber of Commerce.

The group’s objective is to provide information to the GNWT so it can reduce regulatory burdens before March 31, 2021.

Work has already begun on forming a regulatory database and exploring processes and methods from other jurisdictions that have succeeded in reducing red tape, the department spokesperson said.

Wawzonek told the assembly on Wednesday that the working group will focus on existent regulations, which ones are required and why and which ones can be streamlined.

“It really is within that spirit of finding that balance and trying to improve the functioning and process for the benefit of the small-business community but also for the better functioning of government,” she said.

‘F’ grade for red tape

By some measures, the working group is responding to a pressing need, as Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson explained to the house.

“The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), for years, had a report card on red tape, and every year, the Northwest Territories got an “F,” and then eventually, they just took the territories off of the report card, presumably because we were doing so badly at it,” he said.

CFIB report cards for 2017, 2018 and 2019 gave the NWT a failing grade.

In 2019, the last year the territory was included in the report, the NWT was said to have “some strong political leadership” and “it seems the only time (regulatory reform) is discussed is during CFIB’s Red Tape Awareness Week.”

In terms of a comprehensive public measure of regulatory reform, the NWT “has not yet recognized the need for public measurement” and “putting constraints on regulators is not a priority at this time,” the report card stated.

For next steps, the report card recommends the territory “make it a priority to tackle meaningful red tape reduction.”

The NWT was not included in the 2020 or 2021 report cards, as Johnson said.

British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have consistently received “A” or “A-” ratings over the last few years.

Wawzonek said she’s hopeful the territory can be added once again.

“I don’t mind getting a bad grade if it means that we can improve our grades going forward,” she said.

The working group’s focus won’t yet include all government departments.

“This is going to be an opportunity to seek out contributions from across the NWT, from across sectors, from across business communities, business organizations, environmental communities, environmental organizations,” said Wawzonek.

Simplifying processes

Johnson asked if the group will examine ways of streamlining government departments, using as an example the process a prospective farmer would undertake to start a farm.

“You would have to go to the town first, then you would have to go to the GNWT for approval, and then you would have to get lost in the world of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The idea that there could be one simple agriculture form is impossible.”

Wawzonek responded that the group would look at possibilities for “one-window services” and reporting requirements that are single instead of multiple.

Bruce said it’s too early to comment on what she expects the group can achieve, but is pleased that the issue of red tape is being addressed and is optimistic that progress will be made.

Last month, she expressed frustration as co-chair of the BAC that the GNWT’s Executive Council isn’t sufficiently focused on economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The council subsequently suspended regular meetings.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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