Red Tape and Rural Life

Commentary, Agriculture, Robert Sopuck

You probably think that all of us country folk are as free as the proverbial birds, doing whatever we like, since there is no one out here to worry about it. Well, the reality is much different.

We need government permits to sell our wheat and to start up poultry, dairy, or egg farms. If we want to drain a slough or create a wetland, the government wants to know. We’ve got the odious Firearms Act, which allows the police unrestricted entry into our homes without warrants. Not only that, a government course and licence is required if we want to launch a boat into our favourite fishing lake.

Not content with these rules, the federal government, through Fisheries and Oceans Canada (FOC), will soon be placing “fish inspectors” all over Manitoba. Their job will be to oversee any and all activities in a watershed that “may” have the potential to affect fish. Since all of Manitoba is part of one watershed or another, this program has the potential to be the biggest federal intrusion into Western affairs since Trudeau’s ill-fated National Energy Program. The next shoe to drop is the Species at Risk Act, which has the potential to strip landowners of their traditional property rights if an endangered species happens to look, stop, nest, or whatever on your land.

We’ve got subdivision processes, environmental assessments and zoning by-laws as well. Why do we regulate development, anyway, since much of rural Manitoba is “de-developing” and losing population? Frankly, it’s a wonder that anything gets done. Some days it seems that a “regulatory war” has been declared on Rural Canada. If they had been bogged down in this sort of red tape, would crucial water supply and flood control projects like the Shoal Lake Aqueduct and the Red River Floodway ever have been built? Not likely.

The question is not whether regulations are required at all. In some cases, they work. Who in his right mind would ever want anything but very clear regulations at intersections? Let’s hear it for traffic lights!

However, like so many government efforts, some regulations have clearly outlived their usefulness and act as a a drag on rural communities and the province as a whole. The Filmon government saw that the old hog marketing system was depressing the pork industry and abolished it in favour of open markets. The result has been a booming hog industry — too booming for some folks — worth about 12,000 jobs when you include value-added processing. All it took was a stroke of the deregulatory pen.

The other marketing boards, including the Canadian Wheat Board, need to be evaluated as well. The people there are very good at what they do, namely the exporting of wheat and barley. But maybe we should examine whether the Board’s behaviour prevents better uses of wheat and barley, like feeding hogs or making pasta right here in Manitoba.

We must always be looking for efficiencies in government and, in the case of rules we might want to take the view, “Regulations if necessary, but not necessarily regulations.”