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Canada Cuts Down On Red Tape. Could It Work In The U.S.?


In Canada, the government has figured out a surefire way to slash red tape with a law that eliminates one regulation for every new one that's created. The One-For-One Rule was adopted last month in a nice Canadian way, without political warfare. NPR's Uri Berliner reports.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: The story starts in 2001 in Canada's beautiful west coast province of British Columbia. Laura Jones lives there, in Vancouver. She's with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. And she says back then, the economy of British Columbia was a mess, partly because there were so many time-consuming regulations. And she says some of them were pretty dumb.

LAURA JONES: Forest companies were told what size nails they had to use the build a bridge. Restaurants were told what size televisions they could have in their establishments. Kids even were affected. They were being told they needed two permits to show a tadpole in their classroom at show and tell.

BERLINER: So the incoming administration in British Columbia said enough is enough. For every new rule that becomes law, two existing ones would have to go. And Laura Jones says it's worked. In British Columbia, regulation has been reduced by 40 percent. She says small business has benefited.

JONES: And there's been very little to no outcry about cutting into rules that are important to protect human health, safety and the environment.

BERLINER: Eventually, British Columbia dialed it back to one for one, and that became the model for the entire country. For two years, one for one has been a federal policy, part of a broader attack on red tape. To give the effort credibility, the savings from eliminating regulations couldn't just be assumed. They had to be quantified. Tony Clement is a cabinet minister with Canada's ruling Conservative Party.

TONY CLEMENT: We're trying to measure and benchmark our success. And in that way, it's a serious exercise, not just a - you know, a jingoistic political exercise.

BERLINER: Clement says small businesses are logging less time on paperwork - a reduction of hundreds of thousands of hours so far. Nineteen federal regulations have been eliminated, but the law won't allow cuts to protections for health, safety and the environment. That took any ideological edge off the act. When Canada's House of Commons voted to make the policy an actual law, the bill passed overwhelmingly.

I saw that the vote was 245 to one.

CLEMENT: Yes, the Green Party was a bit skeptical.

BERLINER: So even the socialists backed it?

CLEMENT: They did indeed. Yeah. In fact, we're having a tussle with them as we move towards our election as to who is a better spokesperson for small business in Canada.

BERLINER: Here in the States, there is, of course, plenty of policy debate about the right level of regulation. Business groups say compliance with regulation cost the U.S. economy $2 trillion a year. Environmental, consumer and labor groups say these are mostly vital protections, and they often push for more of them. Laura Jones says that's a debate the public largely ignores.

JONES: And that's what we're trying to change in Canada. And I think Canada, in this area, is ironically going to be a very good model for the U.S.

PAUL LIGHT: I think there's a reason why we've never used it, which is that it's a most impossible to implement without offending Congress.

BERLINER: That's Paul Light. He's a professor of public service at NYU, and he's been watching efforts to pare back bureaucracy since the 1980s. He says regulations don't get created without a legitimate reason. They reflect the desires of elected leaders.

LIGHT: I get the pressure from business - and small businesses, in particular - to reduce red tape.

BERLINER: But he says there's a better way to do it. Instead of a one-for-one swap, write smarter and more careful regulations. Uri Berliner, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.