Manitoba

City of Winnipeg must cut red tape to operate closer to 'speed of business,' industry groups say

A report on reducing red tape at the City of Winnipeg shows some improvements, but business and construction groups say there is much more work to be done.

'Baby steps' in city red tape report toward reducing bureaucratic drag on efficiency: construction association

The Winnipeg Construction Association says a new city report on reducing red tape includes 'positive steps' for the industry, but that they're also 'baby steps' toward improved efficiency. (George Widman/The Associated Press)

It's a bylaw that isn't known and isn't enforced.

But since 1983, the sidewalk cleaning bylaw No. 3422/83 has sat active on the City of Winnipeg's books.

It requires occupants and building owners on each side of one block-long stretch of Osborne Street, between River and Stradbrook avenues, to clean the snow off the sidewalks themselves — or face the consequences.

"The city may clean the sidewalk and the cost thereof shall be paid to the city upon demand and in case of non-payment, such cost may be charged as a special assessment against such premises to be recovered in like manner as other municipal rates," reads the bylaw.

It's the only street in all of Winnipeg where such a bylaw is in place — and the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce says it's an example of the kind of house-cleaning the city needs to do for more efficient operations.

"I don't think it's actually enforced at all," said Colin Fast, the chamber's director of policy.

"But that's an example.… Why do we have these bylaws that, you know, nobody enforces — or they're completely redundant with provincial legislation?"

The chamber, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Winnipeg Construction Association, among others, have submitted recommendations to the City of Winnipeg for a red tape report set to be discussed by the city's executive policy committee next week.

Colin Fast of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce says efforts to cut red tape need to be monitored by the city and business. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Fast says he can point to dozens of arcane rules that no longer apply or where jurisdiction has moved to another level of government, or of bylaws that the city keeps amending.

"You'd think once a decade or so you should stop and go, 'Hey, let's do a cleanup on this thing.'"

Old laws aside, the chamber says it isn't seeing a critical piece it recommended should be in the red tape reduction report.

Red tape reports (one was completed in 2005 by then-councillor Franco Magnifico) have a habit of being less than fully implemented, and the chamber wants accountability and regular updates on progress.

"So whether that is a subcommittee, a task force, or whatever you want to call it," Fast said, that accountability mechanism needs to include industry representation "so it's not just government checking on government."

The latest red tape report at city hall has a series of initiatives and timelines, and Fast says while there's been some movement forward, there have also been some "missed opportunities."

'Baby steps'

Senior city managers have been plowing through controversy since a private group paid an investigator to follow city inspectors, some of whom were seen on shopping trips and stops at local bars — while on the job.

The city has promised a series of reforms along with the results of its own investigation into what happened in the inspections branch of the property, planning and development department.

According to the Winnipeg Construction Association, the red tape report would have been a great opportunity to address some its members' most serious complaints — but they aren't to be found in what EPC members will vote on next week.

Darryl Harrison, the construction association's manager of policy and research, says the report includes "positive steps" — but also says they're "baby steps."

He says the city, in conjunction with a group from industry, is working on quicker permitting and inspections, as well as some other concerns that have been raised.

Twenty staff from the city's inspections branch were fired or disciplined last year after several were found doing personal business during working hours. (Submitted)

But he says his association's members are "operating at the speed of business."

That pace is "not what we're feeling right now" from the city, he said.

Harrison says the construction association wanted to see initiatives in the red tape report that would reduce inconsistency between different inspectors on the same job sites, and a dispute-resolution process between property owners, industry and city inspectors.

The association also says the city takes millions in fees for inspections — and makes few investments with that money that would help the construction industry.

"So that extra $8 million is going to general revenue, and it's not used for resources in the department to improve the services," Harrison said.

In response to questions about the red tape report, a spokesperson for the city said its objective "is to collect important feedback from the business community in order to learn more about their challenges and how the city may be able to assist in addressing those."

As for issues surrounding the permit and inspections branch, the city says those efforts remain in progress and "a full description of improvements is being prepared for all of council and will be detailed in a report in March."

The report will be discussed at the executive policy committee's Feb. 11 meeting.

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