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Deregulation under the Conservatives

The recent outbreak of listeria cast a glaring pre-election light on food safety, and made public the Conservative government’s plans to deregulate food inspection. Because regulation is what happens after legislation is passed, it is generally outside the purview of Parliament, and thus a minority government can engage in acts of deregulation rather quietly.

For a blueprint of deregulation, Canadians need look no further than the 2007 Cabinet Directive on Streamlining Regulation (CDSR). This new regulatory policy was tucked away inside the covers of the 2007 federal budget, and with most budget watchers focused on taxation and spending measures, the CDSR was of passing interest. That and, well, regulation is just plain boring for most people.

This is a shame because the document fundamentally reshapes the regulatory landscape for the federal government. While it is not a smoking gun pointing at Maple Leaf, it does capture the ideology of deregulation quite nicely. Regulations are guilty until proven innocent, seen as an additional cost of doing business and an unjustified intrusion into private affairs that reduces the flexibility of business to make new investments and contest new markets.

Canadians, on the other hand, expect federal and provincial governments to take measures to ensure public health, protect the environment, and make workplaces safe. They just want the job to get done and place their trust in government to make it so. Regulations are rarely called for unless something goes wrong, but over the course of history enough things do go wrong that regulations come into existence to protect the public interest.

In practice, the CDSR pits the public interest against corporate interests in the name of “competitiveness”. And it does so in a highly centralized framework that places numerous hurdles – cost-benefit analyses, international trade screens, and regulatory impact assessments – in front of public policies. The new regulatory policy places the onus on government to prove harm, not on the corporate sector to prove its products and manufacturing processes are benign. Rather than taking sensible, precautionary measures when there is good reason to expect adverse effects, the CDSR demands compelling evidence of harm (essentially, a body count) before action can be taken.

The CDSR does not eliminate regulation, but makes it much less likely that strong and effective regulations will come into place. All existing regulations will soon have their day in court before the CDSR tribunal, thus putting at risk health, safety and environmental protection. election blog 15/09/08 4:46 PM

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Comment from Beijing York
Time: September 15, 2008, 6:07 pm

This is a great blog. Thanks so much.

I really would like to see deregulation/privatization become a serious issue in this election. If Harper wins, we will definitely see a reduction in public services and giant sale on crown corporations. People really need to pay attention to these possibilities and their ramifications.

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