The City of Prince Albert deserves high praised for its redesigned website, but could still do more to make things easier for local businesses.
That’s according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which launched its 11th annual campaign to reduce red tape earlier this week.
CFIB prairie region senior analyst Jennifer Henshaw said they’re encouraged by the steps cities like Prince Albert are taking to make forms, applications and payment options accessible online. However, she said the city still relies too much on older methods of communication, something the CFIB hopes will change in the new decade.
“There’s definitely a lot of good work being done to modernize websites,” Henshaw said during an interview on Thursday. “Even just looking at the City of P.A.’s website, I was really pleased to see that a lot of permits and licenses can be emailed in now. But, I think there’s an opportunity there to take it one step further because a lot of the forms I’m seeing still are old school. They’re just a PDF where people have to print them off and fill them in.”
Henshaw called online forms “a bit of a sanity saver” for small business owners, and urged more governments to start offering them. Unnecessary regulations cost Canadian small businesses more than $10 billion annually, she argued, and allowing business owners to quickly fill out those forms online is an easy way to reduce that burden.
“If a government website is easy to navigate, all the forms are readily available, and there’s a number of payment options online, those really are the things that make a big difference to a small business owner,” she explained.
Older communication methods are also in the CFIB’s targeting sites. In 2020, the CFIB is urging municipal governments to “axe the fax” and stop using fax machines.
The CFIB argues that some businesses keep a fax machine solely for government business, so eliminating them would be an easy way for business owners to save some dollars.
Henshaw added that governments at all levels rely too much on cheques, and should instead look at increasing online payment options.
“These small changes really add up for small business owners,” she said. “Imagine if every government, from federal or provincial down to municipalities, took just one process, one form or one fee and made it available online. They’re small, but when you stack them up, the effects are actually huge for small business owners.”
City of Prince Albert communications manager Kiley Bear said redesigning the City’s website was their biggest priority in 2019, and with that completed they’ll look at other ways to provide more efficient service in the future.
The City already allows online payments for things like parking tickets, and allows businesses and residents to sign up for online alerts for things like road closures.
Bear said making it easier to do business in Prince Albert is a major priority for the city, but added that some changes may require new legislation. That’s largely what keeps the City of Prince Albert using things like fax machines, instead of going entirely online.
“As long as the language still requires a formal fax, we’ll still follow that procedure, but in a lot of places, a scanned and emailed copy of documents will work, and we definitely will use that option wherever possible,” she said.
Bear added that the city still has lots of residents and businesses who want to do their business offline, so administration won’t move everything online just yet.
“We have residents who are very comfortable with online, and would prefer to do all business online, but we definitely still have residents who are happy with the paper process, so we’re definitely balancing both right now,” she said.
The CFIB is an 110,000 member association of small and medium-sized businesses. Roughly 5,250 of those members are in Saskatchewan.