Cut­ting red tape can lead to dis­as­ter

Sackville Tribune - - OPINION - Russell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages

Look­ing at pic­tures of the re­mains of the Gren­fell Tower apart­ment block in Lon­don – charred wreck­age where at least 79 peo­ple died – it’s hard not to shud­der, just imag­in­ing what it must have been like dur­ing the fire.

Lon­don po­lice say the fire started in a fridge freezer, and then spread rapidly be­cause of extremely flammable ex­te­rior cladding and in­su­la­tion ma­te­ri­als – ma­te­rial which should not have been used on the build­ing.

Det. Supt. Fiona Mccor­mack was blunt about the fire: “Given the deaths of so many peo­ple, we are con­sid­er­ing man­slaugh­ter as well as crim­i­nal of­fences and breaches of leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tions,” she told the Reuters news ser­vice.

Clearly, the fire will be re­mem­bered as a ter­ri­ble tragedy. But we should think about it in an­other light, as well – as some have al­ready ar­gued, the fire is a wake-up call about why gov­ern­ments have reg­u­la­tions, and why it’s im­por­tant that those reg­u­la­tions be en­forced by im­par­tial in­spec­tors.

We live in a time where it’s extremely pop­u­lar to cam­paign, and then de­liver, on prom­ises to “cut red tape.” Of­ten, the mea­sure of the suc­cess of such re­duc­tions is ar­bi­trary in the ex­treme. U.S. President Don­ald Trump has said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in that coun­try could lose as much as 70 per cent of its reg­u­la­tions, and has set a stan­dard of hav­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies re­move two reg­u­la­tions for ev­ery new reg­u­la­tion they want to put in place.

When pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments launch red-tape re­duc­tion ef­forts, they of­ten mea­sure their suc­cess in the type of reg­u­la­tions that have been re­moved, not the rea­sons be­hind the re­moval. More of­ten than not, it’s sim­ply a nu­mer­i­cal mea­sure of the num­ber or per­cent­age of reg­u­la­tions that have been taken off the books.

New­found­land and Labrador did it be­fore, and is do­ing it again. One of the fas­ci­nat­ing things about the process is that, at one point, the gov­ern­ment is­sued a news re­lease pat­ting it­self on the back for re­mov­ing “more than 27 per cent” of gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions, with­out talk­ing about what reg­u­la­tions were ac­tu­ally re­moved.

The Mar­itime prov­inces have joined up to do the same; in Nova Sco­tia, the mea­sure of whether the ef­fort is suc­cess­ful doesn’t fo­cus on the types of rules re­moved, but on a bench­mark, along with tax cuts, of sav­ing busi­nesses $25 mil­lion in costs.

But what’s gen­er­ally not dis­cussed is the fact that reg­u­la­tions are ac­tu­ally put in place for a rea­son. There aren’t peo­ple just sit­ting around gig­gling and say­ing, “This will waste a lot of time.” Reg­u­la­tions are put in place to ad­dress prob­lems. Some­times, they don’t ad­dress those prob­lems very well, and some­times, over time, the prob­lems the rules are meant to solve dis­ap­pear of their own ac­cord, and the rules be­come re­dun­dant.

So, yes, reg­u­la­tions some­times need to be re­moved, stream­lined or re­assessed, so that they don’t be­come a waste of ev­ery­one’s time.

But there are ba­bies, and there is bath­wa­ter: throw­ing out the right part of the tub’s con­tents is crit­i­cal.

The prob­lem is that you can’t sim­ply re­move the rules and ex­pect that ev­ery­one will live up to their obli­ga­tions. Even with reg­u­la­tions, there are peo­ple will­ing to cheat. That’s why we can’t even de­pend on self-ad­min­is­tered codes of conduct to keep us safe.

You don’t need to be a build­ing inspector to know you shouldn’t cover the out­side of a multi-storey build­ing with highly flammable ma­te­ri­als. But peo­ple will do ex­actly that.

Sim­ply put: if peo­ple could be trusted to do what was right, in­stead of what ben­e­fited them the most per­son­ally, we would not need reg­u­la­tion.

But be­cause it is clear that is not the case, we need both rules and peo­ple to en­force them – and we have to be aware that red tape re­duc­tion has risks, too.

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