Skip to content

Policy Geek Posts

Budget 2017 – Commitment to Regulatory Modernization

February 27th was a great day for policy wonks and regulatory modernization enthusiasts across Canada.  The Government of Canada proposed in Budget 2018 to “provide $11.5 million over three years, starting in 2018–19, for the Government to pursue a regulatory reform agenda focused on supporting innovation and business investment.”1.

This extraordinary commitment to modernizing Canada’s regulatory regime is unprecedented during my decade in regulations.  While Canada consistently ranks near the top of OECD rankings of regulatory regimes, we all know there are ways that we can make things less burdensome, more agile, and responsive to the increasingly dynamic landscape we’re regulating.

The changes stem from three priority areas identified in the December 2017 report of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth “for establishing an agile regulatory system designed for the new economy”2:

  • Catalyze innovation across the economy through regulations that accommodate emerging technologies and business models, especially in high-potential sectors.
  • Drive coordination between agencies and jurisdictions, both within Canada and internationally.
  • Promote efficient and predictable regulation.

In response to these three priorities, the Budget put forward the following approaches3:

  • Targeted reviews, over the next three years, of regulatory requirements and practices that are bottlenecks to innovation and growth in Canada, with an initial focus on agri-food and aquaculture, health/bio-sciences, and transportation and infrastructure, including emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles.
  • Canada’s leadership on internal trade at the Canadian Free Trade Agreement Regulatory Reconciliation and Cooperation Table.
  • Developing an e-regulation system—an online platform modelled on the successful U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs website—to engage Canadians on regulation in order to improve the transparency and efficiency of the overall rule-making process.

To best understand how to enact reforms which will catalyze and support innovation while increasing regulatory coordination, the first point is essential.  Canada, and indeed, the world’s, regulatory system is growing increasingly more complex every day.  A thorough review with targeted assessments of individual regulatory system components would be essential before proposing changes.

I have the least experience with the second bullet, but I can see how continuing our current trajectory of increased focus on regulatory coordination and cooperation will only benefit the Canadian regulatory system and reduce burden on businesses.

The final point has been one of my passions for several years now.  I am very excited to see the development of a single window into Canada’s regulatory system.  I have long advocated having everything from forward regulatory plans, to notice of intent, to consultation opportunities, to summarized feedback, to initial and final publications and retroactive regulatory review all in one location.  This would vastly reduce the burden of determining what regulations may impact businesses, especially in industries without a strong stakeholder association.  Additionally, it would allow clustering of regulatory initiatives by subject matter, thus breaking down the existing departmental regulatory silos.  You could look up changes occurring to import regulations for plants or food and see changes happening at the Canada Border Services Agency, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Health Canada in one location.

Needless to say I will be following the work of the team assembled to tackle this important task closely.  We have amazing regulators in Canada and strong fundamental basis for undertaking this modernization effort.  I strongly believe that we are on the cusp of being one of the world leaders in regulatory innovation and transparency.

Leave a Comment

End of Short* Hiatus

* For very generous definitions of short!

After almost two full years off from this project, I’ve decided it’s time to return, mostly because my head is full of a bunch of thoughts I’d like to structure and get out there. Also, I think I’ve managed to work out the work-life imbalance that was making side-projects difficult.

I plan on posting about Government of Canada regulatory reform efforts and contrasting and comparing our approaches with various international jurisdictions. Additionally, I’m very interested in the modernization of the public service and our open government efforts. Finally, I’ve been reading some great books lately, and will probably post some thoughts as I did with my review of “Simpler: The Future of Government” by Cass Sunstein.

Thanks for all the interesting discussions, coffees, and support over the last two years. Look forward to jumping back into the ongoing conversation.

Leave a Comment


I’ve been recently feeling as though I’m reaching the limits of my ability to meet my commitments and maintain a healthy work-life balance.  For the time being, I’m going to take a small break from this new project in order to re-focus on my priorities.

Thanks for your patience.

Leave a Comment

Review: “Simpler: The Future of Government” by Cass Sunstein

Book cover for "Simpler: The Future of Government by Cass R. Sunstein"I had the great fortune to attend a bootcamp ran by David Sevigny and Marcel Chiasson at the Institute on Governance this past Spring.  Prior to this, I had been following the interesting behavioural economics implementations of our colleagues across the pond in the UK and the success they had been seeing.  During the talk, Cass Sunstein, the former director of the US Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) came up.  During his time as director of OIRA, he became the champion for behavioural or “nudge” economics within the regulatory regime of the United States. At this point, I had already read “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness” which Sunstein wrote with Richard Thaler, but hadn’t really delved into any practical examples of the applications in regulatory development.

Simpler: The Future of Government” is part autobiography, part theory, and part success stories.  If you’ve read Nudge, then a good half of the book will seem repetitive as it lays out the basics of behavioural economics.  Sunstein’s work on choice architecture (covered broadly in both books) is further discussed in his interesting paper “Impersonal Default Rules vs. Active Choices vs. Personalized Default Rules: A Triptych” for anyone wanting a more in-depth look.

The book lays out how Sunstein was tasked by President Barack Obama to bring this modern thinking to the American regulatory regime to increase the effectiveness of regulatory initiatives with alternative and, often much lower-cost, options.  The push to using choice architecture and “nudges” in place of mandates, penalties, and fines lead in many cases (with examples listed in the book) to effective regulatory compliance at much lower cost.

Sunstein is also a huge proponent (as are most modern economists and regulators) in cost-benefit analysis as a mandatory component of modern regulatory design.

“In the Obama administration, we placed a great deal of emphasis both on cost-benefit analysis and on maximizing net benefits. Indeed the net benefits of our regulations, through the first three years, were more than twenty-five times those in the comparable period in the Bush administration, and more than six times more that those in the comparable period in the Clinton administration.” (33)

In Canada, the Cabinet Directive on Regulatory Management mandates the investigation of costs and benefits (qualitative and quantitative (including non-monetary)) with varying levels of rigour dependent on the impact of the regulatory proposal.  I think this emphasis on ensuring that practical cost-benefit analysis outranks any dogmatic or politically driven goals is the standard by which a modern regulatory regime should be based.

I would highly recommend this book for people with very little understanding of behavioural economics and/or the regulatory regime of the United States.  The book provides a great overview of the regulatory system, the changes implemented by Mr. Sunstein, and the general principals of behavioural economics in good regulatory design.  If you’ve read Nudge, I would say about half the content of the book is covered (and sometimes more clearly) in Nudge.  Also, a portion of the book deals with the political difficulties Cass Sunstain faced during his appointment as Director of OIRA and really doesn’t add a lot of value to the book.

What I did enjoy thoroughly were the great examples of success stories where behavioural economics has achieved policy objectives with greater benefit, lower cost, or, in many cases, both.  These are really easily digestible success stories and help to invigorate discussion about how more of these techniques could be used within Canada’s regulatory system.

If you’d like to borrow my copy, please do not hesitate to contact me, I’d be happy to lend it to you.


Leave a Comment