Over the last decade, there have been numerous debates about a number of high profile trade and labour mobility agreements. Ostensibly, politicians of all stripes have pursued these agreements to help reduce trade and labour mobility barriers. While senior levels of government have been busy doing their part to create more jobs, is it time for cities in Metro Vancouver to do the same thing?
Over the last two months we've been critical of Metro Vancouver's leadership, in particular, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, for the fact the region doesn't have a economic strategy. So if we make the assumption Metro Vancouver can't come up with a strategy prior to Mayor Jackson stepping aside, is there anything that individual Mayors could do in the interim?
As a first step, how about significantly reducing the amount of red tape that small businesses operating in the Metro Vancouver area have to deal with? If you are a small business and you want to operate in all 22 municipalities, you currently need to apply for up to 22 separate business licenses. Just imagine how much paperwork and time it takes for these small business owners to wade through all this paperwork. The stark reality is many businesses don't and they simply operate without a license.
So while the Feds signed NAFTA, and the Provinces signed TILMA, is it time for Metro Vancouver cities to sign the Business License Integration and Mobility Agreement (BLIMA)? It would go something like this. If you want to apply for a business license in one city, you will have a reciprocal agreement to operate in all cities in Metro Vancouver.
The BLIMA slogan could read "One business, One fee, One license,". If BLIMA were to be signed, over time, I believe other bells and whistles could be incorporated that would help further reduce red tape for Metro Vancouver businesses. I'm pretty confident if Metro Vancouver took the time to consult with the local business community, they would come up with another dozen or so issues that could be addressed through BLIMA.
There are probably more than a few of you who think this type of agreement will never be signed by all 22 municipalities. You're probably right. However, I don't think the lack of unanimity in Metro Vancouver should halt the establishment of BLIMA. If only 5 cities agree to harmonize their business license application process, then let them move forward. That's 5 more cities with a harmonized business license than before the agreement.
As for the other cities that want to retain their own complicated forms, hefty fee structures and byzantine rules, they will soon find out that businesses may choose to move elsewhere. Before you know it, I think most, if not all of the cities will be signatories to BLIMA.
Former Vancouver City Councillor Peter Ladner tried through a motion to get the discussion regarding a regional mobile business license underway, but it doesn't appear to have gone anywhere.
With Vancouver heading into an economic slump, the time has come for some regional leaders to put their thinking caps on and get moving on these types of initiatives.