Want to help entrepreneurs? Make Nova Scotia a leader in regulation again, and make it the law.

Regulation is necessary. Some regulation is quite positive, supporting efficiency, business and consumer protection and ensuring the health and security of citizens. Business owners understand this and have no objection to needed rules being administered fairly. Unfortunately, small and medium size businesses are feeling the brutal impact of unnecessary regulation and red tape and it’s killing the entrepreneurial spirit in Nova Scotia.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) has released its 2015 Red Tape Report Card, comparing the relative merits of efforts to reduce red tape across the country. Nova Scotia’s mark? A dismal D-. This mark may deserve an asterisk but that depends on what action will be taken by the government over the next few months.

Last week, an announcement from the office of Minister of Municipal Relations and Service Nova Scotia, Mark Furey, showed some signs the importance of doing something about measuring red tape and being held accountable for the damage it causes to small business is taking hold in the public service.

Service Nova Scotia will now have two branches, one focused on service excellence and the other focused on program modernization and red tape reduction. A Deputy Minister has been assigned and it looks like an administrative framework is being created to start tackling the problem.

In fact, a great deal of work has already been done with Service Nova Scotia’s Access to Business (A2B) initiative over the past couple of years, unfortunately there’s no way the public can measure either its impact or effectiveness. While these moves are very encouraging, tinkering with the bureaucracy is simply not enough. Regulatory reform must be politically championed and enshrined in legislation.

In both last year’s pre-budget submission and our Tax and Regulatory Review submission, CFIB provided the provincial government with clear criteria in five specific categories used to grade regulatory accountability. It includes political leadership, public measurement, putting constraints on regulators, legislating the commitment and demonstrating momentum in red tape reduction.

When Laurel Broten presented her Tax and Regulatory Review in December, almost every suggestion brought forward last spring by CFIB on red tape was adopted as a recommendation. The government is now holding another round of public consultations on the report. On the regulation piece, CFIB is asking the government for prompt adoption of these sensible improvements and make it law.

We’re asking the Premier and the Minister of Finance to step up and state clearly this is a priority for government and bind any action with the discipline of legislation. Not only would this be a low-cost political win, it would be a meaningful improvement in conditions for small and medium size business in Nova Scotia.

Of all the issues of concern to Canadian small business owners, government regulation and paper burden is second only to the overall tax burden. We are very pleased to see Minister Furey working on the mechanics inside Service Nova Scotia, but when the next budget is delivered, both the Premier and the Minister of Finance must also step forward and plant the flag for regulatory excellence in this province.

Additionally, as cabinet prepares for the spring budget, every Minister around the table should be arguing to do what is necessary to show the Nova Scotia government takes red tape as seriously as it is taken by our entrepreneurs.

HRM, want to become a small business friendly? Adopt a construction mitigation policy

Construction crews work on a section of Cow Bay Road in Eastern Passage.

Halifax is growing. There has been more intensive development in HRM in the past two years than at any time in the past three decades. The downtown core is transforming with business and residential developments rising in every corner. Major investments in public infrastructure are being planned for the Cogswell Street Interchange and over the next decade Halifax Water will be spending billions upgrading water and wastewater capacity.

This economic activity provide great benefits, however there are unintended consequences. The impact of this development is creating significant economic hardship for small businesses adjacent to these major projects. When finished, these projects should benefit these businesses. Residential and business developments will provide higher concentrations of foot traffic and a source of customers, infrastructure upgrades will provide additional capacity and allow for increased population density..

Over the past months however, CFIB has heard from many businesses struggling to survive while these projects are being completed. The impact on the Argyle Street business has been horrendous. Revenues at businesses already operating with razor thin margins have plummeted. In Eastern Passage, the Halifax Water upgrades have put many adjacent businesses on the verge of permanent closure. There are many other examples dotting the landscape.

On the municipal website it states clearly that HRM does not entertain Loss of Business or Business Interruption claims as a result of construction projects. The city is responsible for issuing permits for development therefore it should also be the city’s responsibility to make sure small businesses are not suffering unreasonable harm as the result of its decisions. This means more clarity and better communication for both the contractor and affected businesses.

Entrepreneurs in the retail and food services sectors depend heavily on foot traffic, appropriate parking availability and a reasonable environment to conduct business. As a vitally important part of the municipal tax base, HRM would be wise to look at the adoption of a robust construction mitigation policy to make sure these businesses can continue to run or at least give them a reasonable heads up so steps can be taken to mitigate their own losses.

Construction mitigation refers to the measures that cities take to counteract the negative effects of construction. The most important responsibility of government is to ensure businesses are aware of the size and scope of projects well ahead of time. The city also has a responsibility to make sure contractors take into account the direct and indirect impact projects have on surrounding business, especially small businesses dependant on customer access.

HRM must also address inappropriately high encroachment fees on developers. Questions need asking about how much money is charged to developers who have to offer access to sidewalks during construction. These fees need examination. By definition, they should be levied only on a cost recovery basis. That means charging only for the administrative costs and this should be done far in advance of any pedestrian or vehicle traffic disruption. If these are indeed fees, consideration must be given to reinvesting this money into providing adequate consideration to surrounding business or reducing the cost to developers so they can invest in better construction mediation efforts.

Some cities relax zoning laws to permit business signs in places normally off-limits; others relax parking requirements. Others require contractors to put up signs noting business are open and accessible. In the US there are cities that underwrite business-specific construction-based advertising up to $500, or subsidize sale discounts. Others are even more creative entering all visitors to traffic-affected businesses in merchandise raffles or other direct incentives. The cost is not high, but it’s a clear sign the city governments care about small business.

The most important piece is effective communication with affected businesses. This doesn’t simply mean sending out a letter a few days in advance outlining when and where work will be done. It means ensuring contractors and authorities understand the impact on a small business and taking steps to mitigate disruption. It’s the difference between saying our city is small business friendly and doing something to prove it.