Media commentator, businessman and policy analyst Brian Flemming is one of the country’s leading voices on the future of government regulation in the age of the new economy, the Internet, globalization and consumer empowerment. Returning to Halifax after spending a year chairing the quinquennial review of the Canada Transportation Act for the federal government, this experience gave him even greater insight into the appropriate role of regulation in a world in which consumer choice and competition are seeking appropriate balance with people’s desire for safety and public security. Mr. Flemming has agreed to share with AIMS his reflections on the future of regulation. Below you will find a continuing series of articles that touch on all aspects of regulation, how it affects our lives, the forms that it is likely to take in the future, and the forces shaping regulatory reform in Atlantic Canada and elsewhere.

Control-freak capital
“Halifax is a self-proclaimed “Smart City.” It boasts more residents per capita with post-secondary degrees than any other Canadian city and is regularly rediscovered as a “hidden treasure.” One writer recently labelled it “Canada’s last best place.”
“Halifax is also becoming Canada’s most rigidly regulated community. Quebec may regulate signs and language but Halifax, fresh from banning scents in public places, now seems determined to surpass the sovereigntists by regulating private gardens in pursuit of perfecting the ban. Indeed, the perfect has become the enemy of the good in tall ship city.”

Crippling conflicts
The “Big Questions” for any public inquiry into the Walkerton tragedy will be:
1. How did Walkerton’s water get contaminated?
2. Once contaminated, could the tragedy have been avoided by either the Ontario government or Walkerton’s water utility?
3. How can future disasters like this be averted?
As these questions are answered, people should realize that governments which both own and regulate public utilities have a fatal conflict of interest.

Beware, politicians: Cybergovernment is on the way
“The greatest coming challenge for political institutions -in Canada and elsewhere – will be to transform the very nature of democracy itself. Indeed, creating a new means for citizens to be involved in decision-making may be the only way to stem voter cynicism and the meaningless changing of political guards.
“Edmund Burke reincarnated might then say: “I owe you not just my diligence, but decisions that are based both on my opinions and upon your properly – and scientifically – collected views. You are owed nothing less than a true, transparent and direct democracy
‘Cybergovernment of the people, by the people and for the people is here at last.’”

Don’t pump regulation: Luckily, the finance minister quashed city hall’s idea to bring back price regulation
“…[M]anagement guru Peter Drucker once wrote that government regulation of business and industry was one of the most original inventions of western liberal democracy But, like penicillin, regulation has been so widely used, and abused, that its potency has sharply declined.”

Rip Van Regulator: CBC president helps write CRTC obituary
“As the CRTC sinks slowly into irrelevancy, it will whine about protecting Canadian culture and the need for regions to be “reflected” to themselves and to the rest of us. (Is Toronto a region? We should be told.)
“But it’s too late. Pathetic pleas won’t work because the CRTC is in no better position to survive than were those thousands of monks who, before Gutenberg, copied all books by hand. The regulatory tide is on its way out for the control-culture freaks of the CRTC.”

A policy revolution: Regulation and promotion should be kept separate
“One anonymous scientist said, ‘Health should never be put in the hands of a department that is supposed to be looking after the producers’ interests. Britain recognized that only after mad-cow disease.’
“Unfortunately recent regulatory reform efforts have concentrated more on the ‘paper burden’ or regulatory costs than the more fundamental flaw of governmental conflicts of interest.”

Mutant madness: Let’s resist the temptation to label all genetically modified food as Frankenfood
“These and other issues, must be thrashed out in an open and transparent way within the current regulatory framework if Canada is to avoid the demagogic fear-mongering Europe has been wallowing in for years. The objective must be to give intelligent consumers enough balanced information to allow them, not the government, to make basic choices.

Regulators and their conflict of interest
The financial conflicts of interest that politicians occasionally find themselves in, and that so entertain the press, are minor compared to the conflicts their departments enter into by routinely both regulating and financing, insuring and promoting industry. From the Westray mine disaster, through aquaculture, to genetically-modified foods, this conflict in roles only leads to trouble. If governments want to regulate, they should only regulate. If they want to do more, they should hand over the regulatory job to some other agency.