Wanderings – Wallowing in red tape on the way to progress

I was talking to a friend the other day who said he was having issues renovating his home. I emphasized. I know all too well what it’s like to try to do something when certain technical skills are lacking. However my friend was not lacking the renovation skills he assured me. “It’s the red tape Phil!” I have another word for it – bureaucracy!

This is a common issue – many readers have probably been tripped up by red tape and bureaucracy at one time or another. It’s happened to me many times. I bet it’s happened to many readers on one occasion or another too.

Want to do something? You need permits, insurance, plans, and permission from everyone under the sun before you proceed. Drawings, stamps, more approvals, and all along the way shelling out more money in fees.

Groups have to sign off, officials must approve, people must vote, consensus must be had, and the process grinds exceedingly slower.

Many of these processes are mind-numbingly overcomplicated. Directions are written in legalese instead of an easily understandable language. If you make a mistake in the paperwork – and you know the person on the other side of the counter will tell you that you have – the process is further delayed.

This isn’t just for personal projects like renovating your home or putting in a shed – this bureaucracy has crept into every facet of life.

Go buy a used car and try to register it yourself; apply for a passport; or start a business. It’s almost like no one wants you do anything.

How did we get to this point? Frankly, we’ve done it to ourselves. As much as it pains some to agree with their grandpa, life really was simpler in the old days. There much less red tape, fewer regulations, and a lot less process. There was also a lot of abuse. People and businesses did not respect rules that were in place. Things like buildings, renovations, or properly disposing of garbage were done as you wanted. Damn the torpedoes – and the rules. Who needs the tape?

I remember years ago, after the big tire fire in Hagersville, ON (1990) that burned for 17 days – auto garage owners in some areas were digging up old tires that had been buried, because the Ministry of Environment was cracking down.

When the Algo Mall collapsed in Elliot Lake over a decade ago, malls and parking garages across the province underwent a rash of structural engineering inspections. And when an ammonia leak in the cooling plant of an arena in Fernie, BC killed three people – arenas across Canada were double and even triple checked before being turned on for the season. A lot of regulations were updated, and needed tape added.

Those are the extremes that made the news, but many decades of mishaps that never make the press have contributed to the levels of red tape we now “enjoy.”

There is the other side of the extreme: people in administrative roles who relish in making life difficult, just for the power trip. Those are the exception though, not the rule.

I do worry when I read the news about political leaders who want to “reduce red tape”. I don’t think the cuts those officials want to make are the pieces of red tape I – or many others – want cut.

In an ideal world, I’d like it to be easier to apply for a building permit, start a business, fix a soccer field, apply for a passport, or for my friend (and others) to renovate or build their homes. However, I don’t want it easier for some – especially big business – to further damage the environment, poison communities, or mistreat employees.

Sadly, the red tape continues to confound many, slowing progress and frustrating many.

It’s also made me re-examine if we will build a future forever home, or buy something else and renovate. Who needs the headaches? Life is too short to deal with bureaucracy.

This column was originally published in the February 7, 2024 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.