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Paperweight Award: “Celebrating” the worst red tape in Canada

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Notices about notices. Bureaucratic committees for food trucks. The prospect of fines for incomplete government surveys. 

These are just some of the over-the-top regulations that we’ve heard about from members this year, and we’re giving them the highest (dis)honour: the Paperweight Award, which recognizes government departments or agencies who have made life difficult for business owners by adding significant, ridiculous and destructive red tape.

This year, business owners were invited to have their say on the worst of the worst. The Business Owners’ Choice, winning by several hundred votes, is…

Finance Minister Bill Morneau, for adding more complexity and uncertainty to the tax code by imposing a subjective ‘reasonableness test’ on business owners who share income with family members.

The other Paperweight recipients for 2018 were:

  • Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, for insisting a contractor buy a brand new ladder because his old one had a worn-out label.
  • New Brunswick Liquor Control Act (on behalf of all interprovincial trade barriers), for taking Gérard Comeau to the Supreme Court of Canada for buying cheap beer in another province and bringing it home. 
  • Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn, for ramming through a new set of rules dramatically increasing small business’ costs and providing compliance details just weeks before the rules came into effect.
  • Quebec’s Labour Department, for requiring businesses to post a notice notifying employees they will soon be posting another notice. 
  • Montreal Urban Community and the City of Brossard, for creating wildly different sets of regulations around the required thickness and composition of plastic carry-out bags.
  • Smithers, B.C., in an encore performance of last year’s Paperweight, for forcing another business, this time a not-for-profit, to build a “sidewalk to nowhere.” 
  • National Capital Commission, another repeat offender, for making children fill out a three -page contract indemnifying NCC of any legal liability before opening up their lemonade stand. 
  • Ontario’s Liquor Control Board, for approving, then disapproving a beer product because its label resembled an ancient Greek symbol associated with medicine. Similarly, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation threatened legal action against a craft distillery for using a stylized 1940s highway sign as their logo. 
  • Statistics Canada, for forcing business owners to spend time answering lengthy, complicated surveys or face fines and even jail time. 
    Update: Stats Can has informed us that jail time is no longer a penalty for incomplete surveys! (The Stats Can website has not yet been updated to reflect this). However, fines are still a possibility. 
  • Quebec’s Ministry of Health, for insisting pharmacies disclose their pricing structure to consumers, creating reams of paperwork and undermining their competitiveness. 
  • Nova Scotia’s Labour Standards Division and Labour Board, for failing meet its own standards to disclose details of a complaint made against a business in time and then refusing to give the business owner time to contest it. 
  • City of Ottawa, for setting up roadblocks for food trucks with bureaucratic red tape and creating a “food truck selection committee.”
  • Canadian Border Services Agency, for unreasonable delays and poor communication when inspecting goods, causing business owners financial hardship and unnecessary stress. 
  • Finance Minister Bill Morneau, for adding more complexity and uncertainty to the tax code by imposing a subjective ‘reasonableness test’ on business owners who share income with family members. 

Find out the full story behind these notorious Paperweights. 

Paperweights through the years

2017

2017 was another banner year for inane regulations. In addition to lemonade stand police and sidewalks to nowhere, we also saw Nova Scotia employers being required to do convoluted math to pay employees for partial shifts, Alberta agri-businesses forced to comply with employment standards that don’t recognize the realities of working on a farm, and P.E.I. residents being hit with extra taxes when selling property if the buyer is someone from another province. 

Read more and meet the rest of the winners.

2016

Halifax wins for its new patio regulations, which cost local bars and restaurants north of $1,000 to comply with. It shared the award with the Canadian Border Services Agency, for dropping its digital small business section; and the Ontario Recycling Authority, for a complicated digital form for reporting on packaging and recycling paper. 

Runners-up included Revenu Québec for issuing a permit that construction companies had to give to clients… who then send it back to Revenu Québec. Also nominated were the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, the Canadian Border Services Agency (twice!), Port Metro Vancouver, the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations.  

2015

The top honour went to Plateau-Mont-Royal, for requiring businesses to replace any plastic chairs used on their patios—a costly upgrade. The Ontario Ministry of Labour shared the award for mandating that employment standards information be printed on legal-size paper.

The also-rans: Manitoba Finance Minister Greg Dewar, for costing some businesses $30,000 because of a lack of guidance; the mayor of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie, for banning new drive-thrus; and the mayor of Sherbrooke, Que., for banning certain types of marketing banners.

2014

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program, for becoming even more time-consuming and confusing, wins the Paperweight Award. Sharing the distinction: Multi-Material British Columbia, which required business to weigh, measure and report paper and packaging waste.

Dishonorable mentions went to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations, for making it mandatory to get a permit to swap statutory holidays for other days off work; the Ontario Ministry of Labour, for mandating that directors, owners and independent contractors in construction buy workers’ compensation coverage; and the Quebec Ministry of Labour for continuing to outlaw cutting hair on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday in the Outaouais region.

About Red Tape Awareness Week: Each year, we dedicate one week in January to raise public awareness about how excessive regulations and red tape affect you, and challenge politicians and bureaucrats across the country to take action.