For most owners of small and medium sized businesses, it is the business of business that captures the majority of their working day, and uses the lion’s share of their energy and resources.

This is at it should be. The SME owner’s vision needs to be fully engaged with customers, suppliers, production, logistics and the variety of other inputs and moving parts that, together, make their company hum. After all, if you are taking the risks you need to focus on making sure it works.

The Level Playing Field Question

We often see the sphere of business activity in any given industry captured in a sports analogy by referring to it as a “ playing field”. In many ways, it is an apt characterization given the similarity of the various drivers, such as plans, competition and rules.

What continually challenges business owners, however, is the seemingly endless cascade of regulations in which businesses are awash these days. And since you wouldn’t see the goalposts moving during a football game, this is where the analogy ends.

Too Much Government Is Never A Smart Play

In Canada, like other democracies, we have adopted the concepts of common good and a social contract which organizes our society. For example, we agree to pay taxes to build roads and schools, provide medical care and so on for the collective betterment of all of us.

We also agree that playing fields should have boundaries and that in order to play the game, there needs to be both rules and enforcement of those rules.

All of this can easily run off the rails when governments get involved outside their role as enablers of business enterprise. They call this ‘leveling the playing field’. It might just as easily be called handicapping when it involves the business of picking winners and losers.

The Playing Field Challenge In The Recycling Industry

The recycling industry brings all of this into focus since there are very clear objectives. Our mandate is to divert waste from the waste stream and either re-use or re-purpose it, use it in some way to unlock the energy stored inside the waste or process it to provide raw material for the manufacture of new products.

The Challenges Just Keep On Coming

While not a new industry, the recycling industry is increasingly challenged by new technologies and applications. On an on-going basis, it consistently requires the development of more recycling infrastructure, particularly as we continue to harden our resolve to pursue sustainable alternatives to the status quo and lessen the environmental and health impacts of what we do here on earth.

As we read through government reports and related initiatives there is a common thread that all companies complain of: In short, it is either the disproportionate burden of compliance costs or the disproportionate burden of compliance rules. So we ask the question, what incentive is there to increase the recycling infrastructure if the net benefit of leveling the playing field is a disproportionate burden of either costs or rules?

Sadly, Government Has It Backwards

Despite all the tools at their disposal, too often, governments prefer to field a team rather than referee the game. Unfortunately, these initiatives can easily overwhelm the solution to problems they are trying to solve.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses has been active in this area. We have been a member for many years and encourage their lobbying efforts to reduce red tape and promote a much more active business climate. While they are making progress, there is still a long way to go. Some interesting work in this area can be found at:

www.cfib-fcei.ca/cfib-documents/rr3317.pdf

The Simple Solution

Small and medium sized businesses are powered by imagination and driven by hard work. Governments need to back-off and refocus on removing barriers and developing and enforcing sensible rules for everyone all the way along the scale. If only large companies with critical mass are left standing to compete we will lose small business innovation and the jobs, opportunities and promise that go with it.

We just thought we would put it out there. As always, we welcome your views on this subject.


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