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Creating a Business-Friendly Regulatory Environment

Creating a Business-Friendly Regulatory Environment

Municipal Affairs - Municipal Policy

Issue

Excessive regulations in planning, building and development processes can slow the progress of development in our community. In order to encourage economic prosperity of our region, there are ways to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses and ensure the City of Medicine Hat is viewed as 'Open for Business."

Executive Summary

The Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce is committed to working with community partners and the government to create a business-friendly environment. This commitment recognizes that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are a significant economic boon to the local, provincial, and national economies. Having to satisfy regulations and policies, complete forms, and follow processes can be costly for businesses, resulting in the stagnation of economic growth. An effort to nurture business and minimize hurdles by eliminating unnecessary regulatory requirements makes good economic sense for everyone in the district. Currently, many businesses in our community have found certain processes and regulations in the City burdensome, costly and time-consuming, and there may be several opportunities to reduce inefficiencies and maximize mutual prosperity.

Background

Barriers to business can involve legislation, regulation, fees, permits, licenses, paperwork, standards, processing times, guidelines, filing and certification requirements, reporting, investigation, inspection and enforcement practices, and any procedures that affect the efficiency of government services for the individuals, organizations and businesses served.

The regulatory and compliance burden poses a serious problem for small businesses, mainly due to excessive regulatory processes putting immense strain on business resources. The disproportionate impact on small firms is especially important given that SMEs are a critical driver of our economy locally, provincially, and nationally. The costs of complying with regulations represent a significant proportion of overhead expense and net margin for business and slow the development of new infrastructure projects without proper justification.

Cumbersome legislative redundancies, lengthy processing times for approval, and complex reporting obligations mean that companies must spend valuable time and resources on understanding and meeting what can be perceived as arbitrary technical requirements. Many must even hire external consultants just to administer the associated paperwork. As a result, companies have fewer internal resources to finance investments in assets, knowledge, and innovation. All of this adds up to less time and resources for investing in business and decreases local economic competitiveness.

The lack of clarity when accessing information and assistance results in frustration for many companies as there is difficulty in identifying the most appropriate individuals in government to provide concrete answers. The problem is further compounded by various interpretations of policy guidelines and inconsistencies in approach by some municipal representatives. We must shift from zero-tolerance, process-focused enforcement to a discretionary, outcome-sensitive approach. In enforcement, there must be a clear accountability framework for regulators. With the current legislation, local businesses must absorb the costs in the process-focused approach; regulators have no disincentive to imposing unnecessary requirements, which creates delay, confusion, or contradictory instruction for a regulated company.

Reducing the compliance burden will require concerted action to pinpoint and eliminate existing irritants that clearly affect growth, competitiveness, and innovation. To succeed, the commitment to reduce legislative barriers where possible should be top of mind in government and must aim towards reducing the burden of regulatory requirements on business. It is an important initiative to follow through on to help businesses grow, prosper, and create jobs without being continually impeded by unnecessary regulations.

Applicants for permits and projects require access to knowledgeable and appropriate employees, including more senior staff, safety code officers (building inspectors), etc. Municipal support staff should be more thorough and better prioritize projects to present requirements the first time an applicant meets with the City department. Applicants are often frustrated when new requirements are implemented with subsequent meetings on the same project. Excessive role specialization results in a significant knowledge deficit when City staff change or leave roles.

We understand that proper infrastructure development regulations serve to protect the community while also playing a role in competitiveness and economic prosperity. There is an opportunity to create relevant and effective regulatory requirements that enhance efficiency for our community's residents and businesses. Improvements to role clarity in the City, creating consistency in assessments, and remedying problems with the online e-permitting portal are a few ways to create an immediate and lasting benefit to the development in our region.

Analysis

The Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce is committed to ensuring that established businesses that want to expand and grow their enterprises have the opportunity to do so in Southeastern Alberta. New entrepreneurs and established enterprises need an appropriate climate to begin and continue business development. Business formation, growth, and expansion are potential sources of new wealth in our economy. This activity benefits all residents directly, as in the creation of employment opportunities, and indirectly, such as through taxation.

The Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce has collaborated with numerous local organizations, including home builders, infrastructure project planners, construction associations, and more, to gather information. The recommendations provided are a direct reflection of the barriers that are currently stunting infrastructure growth in our community.

The businesses in our community need the support of our municipal government through creating an environment that can nurture innovation by putting forward a clear communication strategy, along with consistent, easy-to-comprehend expectations and guidelines, connections for process support from the City, and clear timelines.

Recommendations

The Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce recommends the City of Medicine Hat:

  1. Provide a business support officer that can act as a central point of contact throughout the regulatory process who is able to provide access to government services both online and within City Hall.
  2. Improve the permitting process to resolve issues and avoid the need for duplicate submissions in the online portal.
  3. Ensure an outcome-sensitive approach to bylaw administration rather than a zero-tolerance, process-focused approach.
  4. Create key performance indicators and ongoing training to track and benchmark customer service standards.
  5. Provide an opportunity for applicants to receive temporary occupancy permits in circumstances where safety is not an issue.
  6. Assign one primary on-site City inspector per project to ensure consistency in recommended changes and timely approvals.
  7. Create appropriate standards for when Change of Use permits are required versus a change of occupancy for the same use. 
  8. Encourage the use of pre-application meetings by applying any fees as a deposit toward the development cost. 
  9. Implement a process and establish designated timelines for regulatory reviews.
  10. Ensure a consultation process is implemented with the introduction of regulations and bylaws, consulting business sectors impacted with appropriate notice, and that changes and associated costs are provided in summary or mark-up style notation. 
  11. Allow for a pre-qualified list of private contractors to design and construct both deep and shallow utility servicing to expedite development processes while still maintaining the required standards. 
  12. Develop permitting timeline standards to applicants are aware of the timeline approval process and ensure timelines are competitive with other jurisdictions. 



Date Approved: March 20, 2013
Date Reviewed: June 14, 2022
Date Revised: June 14, 2022
Date Approved: September 21, 2022

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