During the 45 years that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has been advocating for small businesses across Canada, the challenge of complying with government rules is one that is raised by business owners more than any other, except the challenge of taxes.
Like most citizens, business owners believe in and support government rules that serve important purposes such as keeping us safe, protecting the environment, and helping to resolve disputes. However, sometimes the rules themselves or the administration of the rules veers into much more negative territory — colloquially referred to as “red tape”.
Sometimes red tape is garden variety: Do our tax forms really need to be so complicated? Other times, red tape is business-threatening. For example, I once dealt with a case where a business owner following written government advice on how to charge provincial sales tax was informed, unsympathetically, by an auditor that the written government advice was wrong and that she owed over $90,000 in taxes.
In every case, large or small, red tape is destructive to our economy, our communities, and to individuals. In addition to its more obviously negative consequences — raising prices, lowering employment and lowering wages — there is a less visible cost: Red tape undermines the relationship between a government and its citizens to the point that many business owners report “feeling like the enemy” when dealing with government. It is nonsensical that those who contribute so much should feel this way.
We are fortunate in B.C. and Canada that we have many individuals in government who are committed to improving that relationship and making sure that regulatory hurdles are manageable and citizens are treated respectfully. Like business owners, these individuals deserve to hear a lot more thank yous.
Enter Bravo the Bear. Bravo is a new, special edition, “thank you” bear. The idea for the bear came from conversations with independent business owner Karen McKee. Her North Vancouver company, Warm Buddy, has been making therapy products, including warm-up plush animals, since 1995. Trained as a nurse, her care and commitment to the purpose of her business, her customers, and her staff are clear from the first time you meet her. She also knows first-hand how important it is to reduce red-tape, as a number of years ago she had her own difficult encounter of the business-threatening variety.
Starting this fall, thank-you Bravos will be given to those who are taking action to support small business by doing things like shortening forms and wait times, putting things in plain language, and getting rid or unnecessary requirements. The first Bravos will be given out in British Columbia and we plan to have the Order of the Bear go national. If you know a worthy recipient, feel free to let us know at [email protected].
Although the thank you, in the form of receiving an Order of the Bear, is cute enough to make people smile, its intention is very serious. If the bears can help raise awareness about how important it is to support small business by keeping government rules and attitudes around administering those rules reasonable, our country will be better for it.
Laura Jones is the Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Follow her on Twitter @CFIBideas and Bravo at @SmallBizBravo.
This story was originally published in the The Vancouver Sun