The Ontario government wants to make permanent the rules that were loosened for businesses because of the pandemic — meaning cannabis delivery, extended patios, and more government services provided remotely could be here to stay.
The proposal is part of Bill 13, the Supporting People and Businesses Act, which Nina Tangri, associate minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, tabled on Thursday.
Before the pandemic, the Ontario Cannabis Store, a Crown corporation, was the only company that could legally sell and deliver recreational cannabis products to Ontarians, even though non-licensed dealers often ship the weed they illegally sell to people’s homes.
But licensed cannabis retailers were also allowed to deliver their products and offer curbside pickup via special orders issued by the Ontario government, when the latter forced many businesses’ brick-and-mortar locations to close at the start of the pandemic.
During the COVID crisis, restaurants were also permitted to expand their patios — making dining and bar-going more like the European al fresco style beloved by tourists. The government allowed it because indoor dining at the time was either tightly restricted or banned outright.
Since last year, business owners could also do some licensing and regulatory tasks remotely that they could only do in person before the pandemic. Bill 13 proposes a new online business registry to make the submission and approval of documents faster than by mail or fax, and to allow online renewal of some business licences, including for farm- and other heavy-vehicle licences, instead of in person.
Bill 13’s changes would be a win for small businesses, says the head of provincial affairs in Ontario at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
“There’s a lot to like here for small businesses,” Ryan Mallough said. “There are several positive measures within the bill that we think will help.”
The CFIB lobbies on behalf of independent businesses and boasts Canada’s largest membership of small companies.
Mallough also praised Bill 13’s proposed replacement of the regulatory body for skilled trades, the Ontario College of Trades, with Skilled Trades Ontario, a Crown agency. The Ford government has been dismantling the Ontario College of Trades for the past few years.
Skilled Trades Ontario “will release a new online portal that will allow tradespeople and apprentices to access services in one place, including registration, issuance, and renewal of certificates, and trade-equivalency assessments, with many services offered digitally,” according to a government backgrounder on Bill 13.
“(Clarifying) how that (will) function with the portal for tradespeople was a positive,” Mallough said. The regulatory body’s uncertain future “even during the pandemic has come up a lot (as a concern) from the sector,” he added.
On the other hand, the Progressive Conservative (PC) government’s latest reforms of business operations won’t do as much for manufacturers, says Mathew Wilson, a senior executive with Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.
“This really wasn’t focused on us,” he said.
Cutting red tape was a signature of Ford’s platform in 2018. Since being elected that year, the PC government has passed several bills meant to simplify business operations in Ontario.
Like the PCs’ previous bills to reduce red tape, the consequences of Bill 13 would be wide-ranging, since 15 ministries and about 30 pieces of legislation would be affected.