In a bid to cut government red tape, the Pallister Conservatives appear to have created a big bureaucratic headache for the province’s largest Crown corporation.

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This article was published 4/10/2017 (1526 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In a bid to cut government red tape, the Pallister Conservatives appear to have created a big bureaucratic headache for the province’s largest Crown corporation.

The Free Press has learned that Manitoba Hydro was forced to redeploy more than a dozen staff for three months to meet a new provincial requirement that government departments and Crown corporations tally all regulatory requirements under their purview.

In his July report to Hydro’s board of directors, company president and CEO Kelvin Shepherd expressed frustration with the government-driven exercise.

He said it was "highly likely" that Hydro would need to consider hiring staff to keep tabs of its regulatory requirements since the province is mandating annual updates in the future.

In June, the legislative assembly passed Bill 22 (the Regulatory Accountability Act and Amendments to the Statutes and Regulations Act).

The legislation sets out rules for reducing the number of regulatory requirements — everything from forms that need to be filled out for services to regulations and government statutes.

First, however, the government needed to establish how many there were. The job became a massive effort involving as many as 330 employees across the provincial public sector.

In a speech in September to the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, Finance Minister Cameron Friesen revealed the final tally at 906,824.

The regulatory requirements were gleaned by sifting through 12,393 documents.

"That’s quite horrendous," Friesen said of the total.

For Manitoba Hydro, which is mired in debt and downsizing its staff, the task of uncovering red tape was no small undertaking.

"Of significant concern is that the baseline count is not the end of the work associated with this initiative but to some degree, only the beginning," Shepherd said in his report, a portion of which was obtained by the Free Press.

"While the objectives of the legislation are understandable, the methodology the government has chosen to apply to achieving the legislations’ (sic) objectives are highly administratively burdensome," he wrote.

"These concerns have been communicated on numerous instances to (the Department of) Crown Services, (the provincial) Planning and Priorities (Secretariat) and the Regulatory Accountability Secretariat."

In completing the task, Hydro discovered more than 34,000 regulatory requirements involving its business, a spokesman said Friday.

At Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI), some 38,369 regulatory requirements were found in a process that "spanned several months," said spokesman Brian Smiley. He said MPI staff were assigned to do the analysis so no additional staffing expenses were incurred.

NDP Crown Services critic Tom Lindsey called the government-mandated exercise a "giant waste of time."

"If Hydro is thinking that they have to hire another bureaucracy to deal with this, everybody else will have to do the same — at a time when they’re talking about reducing staff, cutting people and laying people off," Lindsey said.

So far, Hydro says, it has not had to hire new staff to meet the new legislative requirements.

A government official, speaking on background, said while 330 public-sector workers were trained to ferret out the regulatory requirements, he could not say how much time they spent on the task.

Some may have worked for "a number of weeks" and others for "a couple of hours" here and there, he said.

"We told the departments to do it in a way that’s most cost-effective and efficient for how you’re structured," the official said.

The Regulatory Accountability Secretariat established under Bill 22 has four full-time and one part-time staff seconded from within the civil service. No new staff positions were created for it and four of the five had been already working on red tape initiatives under the former NDP administration, the official said.

However, now they are doing so in a more organized fashion, he said.

Under the new law, two regulatory requirements are to be eliminated for every new one introduced until March 31, 2021.

After that, one regulatory requirement will be done away with for each new one created.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.