Business leaders cautiously optimistic about nightlife economy plan’s proposal to cut red tape

Image of the Byward Market in Ottawa.
The ByWard Market is just one area in Ottawa that could see a surge of nightlife activities with the city's new proposal.

While Ottawa’s new plan to improve nightlife aims to bring fun back to the city, its proposal to reduce red tape and expedite processes could prove challenging, according to local business leaders. 

On Tuesday, the three-year Nightlife Economy Action Plan was approved by the finance and corporate services committee, setting in motion a review process that could ultimately lead to the appointment of a nightlife commissioner, as well as the creation of a virtual nightlife resource centre, plans for new mid-sized venues, and a city-wide nightlife and security plan. 

It’s a plan that’s been embraced by members of the business community, but some are sounding a note of caution.

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Among the strategies designed to bring more late-night concerts and events to the city are proposals to address the bureaucratic barriers that make some of these events difficult to hold in the first place. 

The phase one recommendations include a review of city bylaws, policies, procedures and services to simplify and improve efficiency “for both the city and nightlife businesses.” That includes streamlining approval, licensing and permitting processes for nightlife activities with, for example, new online application systems.

While the focus on red tape is positive, these processes pose challenges across the board, not just for nighttime events. 

Tim Thomas, a partner and real estate lawyer with Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP, points to timeliness as a major issue with current processes, but added that there’s a lack of transparency that also creates challenges for applicants. 

“I think what people are really looking for is certainty,” said Thomas. “In terms of timing, yes, but also knowing that if I submitted today, I’ll have my permit in, say, six weeks. What’s the start to finish? When can I expect to have my permit or have my approval? What’s the cost? If there’s an issue, can it be resolved? Or is that excuse going to be extended another month, or two months, or three months?”

To streamline the process, Thomas suggested re-examining current permit and licensing requirements to see if there are any unnecessary restrictions, which could include waiving or adjusting parameters around noise or parking. 

He added that he hopes any efforts the city undertakes under the nightlife plan to address red tape will be applied across the rest of the city’s permitting systems. 

“It’s always a concern, when the city decides to focus on something, if they’re going to take away resources from another part of the city,” he said. “Given current budgetary restraints and staffing situations, I don’t know that they have the staff to expedite some of these things. I think it’s going to be a big challenge for (Mayor) Mark Sutcliffe and city council to figure out.”

Ryan Mallough, vice-president of legislative affairs with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is also cautiously optimistic. 

“I think, coming off the pandemic, there’s been a ton of focus on the daytime economy,” he said. “It’s good to see the city focusing on the nightlife side of things too, which obviously took a major hit over the last few years. The world has changed on us and it’s going to take a concerted effort to bring it back and hopefully make it better, so I’m glad to see the city is devoting some attention to it.”

Mallough said he’s glad to see that red tape challenges are being given priority by the city. 

“That’s something that we harp on the governments for at all levels,” he said. “When it comes to things like event licences or special event permits, it can be the difference between getting an event off the ground. The dedication around making sure that’s happening quicker, I think that’s positive.”

Mallough agrees that timeliness is among the biggest issues businesses currently face when it comes to red tape. 

“The process is just slow,” he said. “When you’ve got an event in mind, if you’re not starting that process early enough, or if something pops up, there’s oftentimes a reasonable chance that you’re not going to be able to get your event off. Anything that can speed the process up is important.”

He added that reducing the amount of paperwork is key. That could include cutting back on collecting non-essential information, as well as keeping previous forms on file instead of requiring businesses to resubmit each time they apply for a permit.

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