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Seeing red for the right reasons
Aug 19, 2005

The Winnipeg Real Estate Board was pleased to see the release of the 

final report of the Red Tape Commission at the end of June. 

What the report recommends and how fast the city of Winnipeg is prepared to act on the 30 recommendations are important. 

Organizations like the real estate board recognize how essential it is to deliver timely and efficient services to its member REALTORS, so they can be effective in satisfying all of their clients’ needs and requests. A case in point is the quick processing of a new listing. Upon being entered in timely fashion to the board’s Multiple Listing Service®, a listing is immediately 

available at www.winnipegrealestatenews.com, and soon after that is automatically uploaded to the REALTOR national website www.mls.ca

Ironically, one of our most vexing issues has nothing to do with the board’s willingness to provide members with the information they desire. Due to provincial privacy legislation — the board will continue to lobby for changes on its application — our MLS® system has been stripped of property owners’ names, as a result, 

REALTORS can no longer quickly determine who the property owner is when they get a call about a potential listing. They now have to go in person to a municipal office or subscribe to an expensive online service that is not user-friendly.

A catch phrase used by Red Tape Commission chair Franco Magnifico is the “city of opportunity.” Another sub headline in the final report is Open for Opportunity. The phrases speak to removing some of the shackles inherent in red tape processes and to create rules to allow city staff to become more entrepreneurial and achieve better results. Attracting investment to this city, requires creating more transparent and clearly delineated processes that reduce uncertainty and lessen the time required to get a proposal approved and implemented.

Of course, Winnipeg does not compete for investment in a vacuum, so one needs to consider what other competing cities are doing. An example cited in the report is the requirement of a business license to lease a business office.

“Winnipeg has 84 types of business licenses, with different fees for each, and you may need more than one. In contrast, Saskatoon has one type. Winnipeg’s license bylaw is over 90 pages long. Saskatoon’s law is 20 pages ...”

As for actually building a new office as opposed to leasing space, you may need a variance even if the land is zoned for the intended use. The report indicated in 2004 that “the city received 1,202 applications for variance, a sign that our zoning system is inflexible and problematic.”

Aside from the specific recommendations contained in this Red Tape Report, the city has started a major review of By-law 6400, the zoning bylaw that controls all land use outside of the downtown. The board has both commercial and residential REALTORs involved on a zoning advisory committee. The board members will have direct input in the review process that is expected to go well into next year before recommendations for changes to the existing bylaw are brought to city council.

Based on comments from the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce — the real estate board is a member — and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, there is optimism that, if the city follows through on the thirty recommendations contained in the commission’s report, there will be positive changes to how business is conducted in this city. 

The chamber anticipates the following results:

• Small business will have to do less paperwork (and in some cases, pay less in fees) after business licenses are eliminated in Winnipeg. Winnipeg would be the first large city in Canada to operate without these licences.

• Not-for-profit and arts groups will see reduced administrative cost and hassle, thanks to changes to Winnipeg’s hated Entertainment Funding Bylaw.

• Citizens and business managers will find it easier to navigate a user-friendly online bylaws publication.

• Public servants will see benefits through reduced administrative hassle, a more thoughtful policy on internal financial charges, and improved flexibility in purchasing.

• City customers will be able to rely on a consistent “easy-pay” standard for payment at every point of service.

• Builders will be able to use certified professionals to speed approval of permits and plans without compromising safety.

• Renovators will no longer have to fear assessment increases just because they bought a permit to fix their kitchen. More permit transactions will take place at the home, jobsite or business where the work is taking place.

• Citizens living near proposed developments will know more about 

developments as they happen thanks to major improvements in the public notification system.

• Developers will receive rezoning and land-use decisions much more quickly, thanks to a more transparent system that will fix problems earlier in the process - while preserving community committees as a forum for public input.

Shannon Martin, the director of provincial affairs for the CFIB, said the Red Tape Report provides Winnipeg with the chance to become a model for municipal red tape reform across Canada. 

He called a number of the recommendations very positive for small- to medium-sized businesses. And, he talks about “smart tape,” in contrast to red tape, where “a balance can be struck between protecting people and the environment while creating fair ground rules for business and consumers.”

Some recommendations within the report may be covered in more depth in a future column, since they directly effect real estate, including improving customer service in the assessment and appeals system, streamlining permit processing overall to expand on successes, reducing the number of steps and logjams in land-use approvals, standardizing development agreements as much as possible, allowing for leases or fees in lieu of parking requirements, supporting a public service proposal to speed up local improvements, and bringing stakeholders into the report process. 

Hopefully, common sense will prevail and the city reforms the system to make it easier for the civil servants to provide needed public services more effectively as well as address the legitimate concerns of those who use the services.