Mayor vows to work with council to make the war on red tape a continuous process for the city

This is part 2 in our series Frank talk with Mayor Naheed Nenshi

Calgary’s Business president and publisher Doug Firby recently sat down with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to talk about the business climate in the city, known as the oil and gas capital of Canada. This is Part 2 of a three-part series. You can listen to podcasts of the exclusive interview below.

Doug FirbyCritics who say red tape at Calgary City Hall is not being trimmed as quickly as needed are partially right, Mayor Naheed Nenshi concedes.

“I don’t disagree that it’s stalled out a little bit,” the mayor said in an exclusive interview with Calgary’s Business.

“Red tape in a bureaucracy is a bit like ivy. If you don’t cut it back, it will grow over your windows,” he said. “What has become really apparent to me is that this is an ongoing process and we need to continue to do it.”

Zoe Addington, director of policy, research and government for Calgary Chamber, says excessive bureaucracy has been an ongoing issue. While progress has been made, new regulations always bring with them new paperwork for businesses.

“We regularly hear from our members that we need less red tape,” she says.

The frustrations include businesses having to talk to multiple departments, providing detailed information – only to discover that another department requires similar forms. And members often complain about the property tax appeals process being a bewildering maze.

“The whole process of applying can become complicated, long and expensive,” she says. “The process is so confusing, most businesses have to defer to their lawyers.”

Members would also like to see greater transparency in how assessments are determined.

Nenshi noted than when he first ran for office in 2010, “I started a very simple program with a very fancy name: Cut Red Tape.” It has become part of a broader program, called Operating Savings and Efficiencies, which administration reports is saving the city $523 million between 2015 and 2018 while maintaining service levels.

The efficiencies project includes the Zero-Based Review program (ZBR), which incorporates cuts to red tape. Administration reports ZBR has saved the city between $58 million and $68 million since it was launched in 2012.

“And, in fact, I was nominated by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business for whatever their golden scissors award, or some such.”

The key, he said, was its simplicity: “Submit your ideas on how to cut red tape, we’ll figure out how we can do it and we’ll implement the ones we can. Super low cost and it really led to a cultural shift where red tape was a dirty word. So if people were having trouble with the city and they said, ‘This feels like red tape,’ that pretty much solved their problem.”

Yet Nenshi said he declared victory on the war against unnecessary bureaucracy too early and since then “the culture has shifted back a little bit.” He says he will be working with the current council to find a way to make the war on red tape a continuous process for the city.

Addington says the Chamber appreciates the city’s ongoing efforts to address red tape but said it has to be identified as a top priority, as it was in Nenshi’s first term.

Ultimately, “There needs to be a cultural change in government.” Is a form too long? Can it be filled out online? Can there be cross-department tracking of applications?

Addington says businesses often get “a bad rap” for calling for less regulation but Chambers of Commerce aren’t looking to eliminate rules.

“What we’re talking about when we talk about red tape is not just rules – of course there should be rules – it’s the ones that are unnecessary, or redundant or overly burdensome.

“It’s not that businesses don’t want rules, they just don’t want ones that waste a lot of time.”

Addington says it’s especially important now to make dealing government more efficient because bureaucratic complexity can add significant costs and delays at a time when businesses can choose where they want to operate.

“The decision to move to Calgary, or stay in Calgary, we need to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes,” she said.

On Wednesday, in Part 3, the mayor talks about the bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games and whether the city needs a new NHL arena.

Veteran journalist Doug Firby is publisher of Calgary’s Business and president of Troy Media Digital Solutions.

red tape nenshiThe views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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