Too many regulations for parliament to scrutinize them effectively? Good.

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Friday, February 22, 2013 View Count = 1093

Too many regulations for parliament to scrutinize them effectively? Good.

Today, professional thinker Brian Lee Crowley tells us how he would redesign parliament to get rid of excessive (and excessively expensive) procedures and focus on the ones that actually matter.

The torrent of regulation has now become so vast that, like a Red River flood, it has swept all before it. Parliamentarians have essentially given up the fight — a shocking state of affairs when one remembers that a survey of outgoing MPs showed that many of them were confused or ignorant about what their true role is. They seem to think it is getting up on their hind legs in Question Period and making themselves objects of ridicule and contempt rather than being doughty defenders of our right to be free from unwarranted intrusion by the state.

This can be fixed.

First, restore parliament’s oversight role which has been so badly eroded. Parliament was always first and foremost the place where the liberties of citizens were jealously protected against the unwarranted intrusions of power, going right back to early principles such as “grievance before supply”.*  Parliament once scrutinized regulations every bit as carefully as legislation, and did so with a jealous zeal to protect individual freedom.

Next we should have an annual regulatory budget, just as we do an annual financial budget. Today’s budget exposes to public and parliamentary scrutiny the money the government intends to take out of our pockets. But the costs imposed by regulation are every bit as real as the tax bill we get. And when governments can stealthily push the costs of its policies onto businesses and citizens, it obscures for everybody the true cost of government. Let’s make the government table a regulatory budget detailing how much time and money it plans to force citizens and companies to spend in pursuit of government policy  — and let Canadians decide if the game is worth the candle.

There would have to be tough, consistent and independent yardsticks for measuring the costs that regulations impose, so governments couldn’t fiddle the regulatory books. Such measurement must include an objective assessment of the benefit a regulation is intended to create, so that we can do a genuine cost-benefit analysis of the rules governments intend to impose on us. A regulation producing $10m of benefit, but costing $100m to put in place is a poor deal. We should make that cost-benefit relationship perfectly transparent by requiring that every proposed regulation come with such an independent analysis. Egregiously offensive regulations might not make it past this screen in the first place.

To avoid the accretion of outdated regulations we should consider a universal sunset provision. No regulation can be valid for more than, say, 10 years, unless it is passed afresh.

Too many regulations for parliament to scrutinize them effectively? Good. If any proposed regulation had to be specifically approved by parliament within 5 years or it would cease to have effect, the flow of regulation would be limited to what parliament could scrutinize. Equip MPs and Senators with an Auditor General of Regulation; the AGR could report annually on a few select areas of regulation (e.g. food safety, or airport security), cycling through all areas of government activity every 5 years or so. The AGR could work with the accounting profession and others to come up with those objective standards of measurement of regulatory costs and benefits this process would need.

The burgeoning regulatory state is a new and burdensome form of taxation that essentially escapes parliamentary scrutiny. A parliament that refused to tame it is unworthy of the name of the people’s representatives.

Brian Lee Crowley is a self-identified “serial intellectual entrepreneur”. Crowley is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, and a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Institue for Market Studies. He is the author of many books, a regular columnist in publications across the continent and formerly a member of the Globe and Mail’s editorial board.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy exists to make poor quality public policy unacceptable in Ottawa. They work to propose thoughtful alternatives to Canadians and their political and opinion leaders through non-partisan and independent research and commentary.

* Grievance before supply was the understanding that the King should listen to the grievances of government representatives before asking them to approve taxation.

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