City of Whitehorse makes friends with BizPal

The City of Whitehorse is launching a service on Friday designed to provide one-stop-shopping for all the federal, territorial and municipal regulations required to open a business in the Yukon.

Called BizPal, the service was designed by Industry Canada as part of its Smart Regulation initiative, designed to eliminate duplication of business laws and make it easier – and less expensive – for businesses to comply with the myriad licences, permits and regulations required, many of which are different depending on the location, even for the same type of business.

The service will also be piloted in Kamloops, B.C., and Halton Region in Ontario early next year.

John Taylor, manager of bylaw services for Whitehorse, says the Yukon is not only the first jurisdiction in Canada to offer the service, but the first to offer it territory-wide.

“In the Yukon we’re in a unique situation,” he says. “We’re small but we still have the same concerns as other provinces in the south. We don’t always do business when the government offices are open, and this allows small entrepreneurs with ideas who are looking at opening up some type of business to go on the site and say, ‘This is what I’m going to need, these are the people I need to contact.’”

Whitehorse has worked with the seven other incorporated areas throughout the territory to make sure the applicable information pertaining to all industry sectors will be available.

“We travelled throughout the communities and we did mapping of their industries, what permits and licences they had and we brought that information back,” he says. “A lot of these municipalities don’t have a Web site but the information will be maintained on the territorial Web site.”

The service will be of interest not only to Yukoners, but to other Canadians interested in opening businesses in the region as well, he adds.

Guylaine Brunet, project director for BizPal at Industry Canada, says the solution was designed as a service that can be easily integrated into municipal and provincial Web sites. The goal, she says, was to design a technology solution that would allow partners to share in the ownership and visibility of the service.

“So instead of having partners link their clients to a centralized site, what we’ve done is build a service and that service can be integrated into their own Web site,” she explains. “That service became a really integral part of the way we did business.”

Using a portal on the Industry Canada site wouldn’t have worked well because research indicates business operators tend to go to their municipality’s Web site first for city and provincial permit and licence information.

Industry Canada also wanted to make sure that what it came up with could be easily adapted to the needs of municipalities, territories and provinces of all sizes, so it developed different technology options that would appeal to different partners – a low-tech, highly standardized solution for smaller and more financially and HR-constrained partners, and a high-tech, highly customizable solution for larger partners with the requisite technology expertise, she says. The solutions are built on industry standards using Web services, enabling easy integration, she adds.

Once on the BizPal site, prospective business operators will find a wizard that will guide them through the process. Once they input the city and province they plan to open their business in, a list of industry sectors will appear. The user will pick the type of business and will have to answer a few more questions.

Brunet notes that what constitutes a bed and breakfast in Halifax, for example, can be different from what constitutes a B&B elsewhere.

At the end of the process, he or she will be provided with a customized list of permit and licence requirements, along with the regulations pertinent to that locale.

Participating pilot sites volunteered for the job, she says, which is the way rollouts will continue in the future.

“These are people who aren’t scared and who believed intuitively there would be some rewards, financial and long-term benefits from a service perspective,” she says. “We were also were quite happy because in the end the people who stepped forward gave us national representation.”

Future rollouts will benefit from the lessons learned so far, mostly in the area of business process mapping, says Brunet.

“From a process-mapping perspective we learned that 80 per cent of certain jurisdictions’ mapping can be re-used within that region, and 50 per cent outside that region,” she says.

But Garth Whyte, executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, hopes all levels of government learn something else from the process.

Providing a single service that lists all the costs and laws associated with doing business in Canada will definitely ease the paperwork burden on small businesses, but it will also demonstrate the redundant nature of many regulations and fees, a factor which could be impeding the growth of the Canadian economy, he says.

“It will also highlight for us on the policy side and in government, do we really need 32 permits to open a restaurant? Do I need to do 20 steps? Can that not be done in 10? Why do I need to register the same thing with three different levels of government?”

Whyte, who is also co-chair of the CFIB’s advisory committee for paperwork reduction, says Industry Canada’s approach to designing BizPal as a service municipalities can integrate and brand on their own is good because it ensures buy-in. As well, he adds,

“There’s a danger of competing systems where a municipality has its own system, the feds have their own system, and within the federal government certain entities have their own systems as well,” he says. “Then we have competing systems and we have to start all over again with more than one place to look. We’re hoping if we take the time to do it right and start from the ground up, this will be the vehicle people use.”

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