by SUSAN MANN
If you think that pile of paperwork on your desk waiting to be filled out is getting taller, you’re not alone.
Seventy-seven per cent of people responding to an on-line agriculture survey launched by provincial Progressive Conservative agriculture critic Ernie Hardeman this summer say that red tape is increasing. Ontario farmers spend an average of 154.2 hours a year just filling out government forms and that’s equivalent to about four standard 40 hour work weeks. In addition, 66.4 per cent of farmers said there were examples of red tape and/or regulations that add to their workload and hinder their operation but have no value.
Oxford MPP Hardeman released these initial results from his survey Monday the start of Ontario Agriculture Week in Ontario. Additional results will be released over the next few weeks. He also plans to do another survey on the food industry.
The survey is still available online for people to complete, Hardeman says, noting they don’t expect the number one concern on farmer’s minds, government paperwork and red tape, will change with any more comments coming in. So far, slightly more than 500 people from across Ontario answered the survey.
Hardeman says he doesn’t know how many surveys were sent out but some were emailed from his office and others were sent from other MPPs offices. It was emailed to farmers. There were also responses from people who went online to get the survey, which is still available at: erniehardemanmpp.com/agriculture. Hardeman’s office is also willing to send out surveys by mail if people want.
Mark Cripps, press secretary to Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin, says by email they have and will continue eliminating unnecessary regulations and streamlining others and have reduced the regulatory burden on stakeholders by 28 per cent since 2009, when the Ontario government launched the Open for Business initiative. “We continue to work with the sector to identify opportunities to remove red tape and encourage business growth.”
Open for Business is the Ontario’s government’s strategy to create faster, smarter and more streamlined government, it says on the Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation’s website.
In an interview, Cripps says the minister asked Hardeman in a June 15 letter to provide specific examples of where farmers are struggling with red tape and bureaucracy and “let’s see if we can work on them.” To date Hardeman hasn’t provided any, he says.
“Just to say there’s too much red tape isn’t helpful,” Cripps notes.
Mark Wales, Ontario Federation of Agriculture president, says in a member survey they did earlier this year farmers said being overburdened by regulations was at the top of their minds followed by farm safety net support programs.
Wales and Cripps both questioned what forms farmers answering the survey included when assessing the time spent completing them, such as income tax and federal government support program applications.
But Wales agrees there is a “fair amount” of forms growers must fill out and depending on what type of farming someone does the time spent completing paperwork will vary. “If you do any kind of value-added or any type of on-farm processing, I’m sure it’s a nightmare and we know that.”
Similarly if a farmer has an endangered species on their land or they’re applying for drainage works, the paperwork “takes quite a lot of time,” he says, noting farmers have different ways to complete forms with some using accountants for program applications and taxes while others do it themselves.
Hardeman says in the survey they didn’t ask farmers to describe the forms they were talking about. “But I would be shocked if it included the income tax.” Still he couldn’t say that no one included in their answers the time spent filling out income tax forms.
Hardeman says they’re using the survey ‘”to hold the government accountable for what they’re doing. The government says they reducing red tape immensely but a very large percentage of the people who responded (to the survey) said in their opinion red tape has at least stayed as prominent as their number one issue.” There is also a large number saying red tape has increased, he notes, adding “if they (the government) have decreased it they sure have done it in a strange way when the people don’t realize it.”
Hardeman says the accuracy rate of his survey “should be within a margin of four per cent.” BF