Promoting Health Through Less Regulation

Blog, Regulation, Peter McCaffrey

Yesterday I had a very interesting meeting with a couple of staff members from the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region.

We covered what each of our organisations do, and shared how we operate and work towards improving the lives of Reginans and Canadians.

In particular I enjoyed sharing some ideas for promoting public health through less regulation rather than more. Why introduce new rules, when simply removing existing rules could have similar, if not better outcomes?

For example, many current city policies effectively subsidise car travel. Forcing businesses to provide minimum numbers of car parks, together with cheap public parking can make public transport and cycling seem comparatively more expensive than it would be in a free market.

Similarly, cycle helmet requirements can often have unintended consequences. Just today there were further calls for regulation in the news. But studies have shown (here’s just one simple one) that helmet laws can lead to fewer people cycling and the associated increase in health costs outweighs the savings from accidents. Little consolation if you’re in crash yourself to be sure, but no-one is forcing you not to wear one!

Drunk driving is another huge problem that the province needs to urgently address. Coming from New Zealand I was shocked by how acceptable it is here in Saskatchewan to drive after having far more drinks than I would consider appropriate.

The problem is cultural and takes a long time develop, as well as fix, but after only a few weeks it was very clear to me what the primary cause was here – at least in the cities. In New Zealand taxis are plentiful, accessible and cheap. Calling a taxi at the end of the night is actually pretty unusual, as when you leave a bar, there’s usually half a dozen taxis lined up outside waiting for your business.

In Saskatchewan, I’ve waited 30 minutes, 45 minutes or even up to an hour for an expensive taxi and the busier the night, the worse the problem. Why? Because the council sets a hard limit on the number of taxis that can be operated in the city.

Under those circumstances, it’s easy to see (though no more acceptable) why people would just decide to drive home. Education campaigns, and a wider culture change are still needed, but abolishing the cap on taxi numbers would provide an immediate positive impact.

The New Zealand example shows it’s possible for taxi drivers to make a decent living in a less regulated market, so surely the welfare of the city as a whole, should trump the interests and profits of a few big taxi companies?

Overall it was a great meeting, and thanks to the RQHR staff for the meeting!