June 9, 2017 9:00 am

COMMENTARY: Ottawa’s lemonade stand rules a reminder of how bad Canada is for business

One year after a National Capital Commission officer shut down a lemonade stand two young sisters set up to quench the thirst of passersby, the NCC has implemented a permit program for child-run kiosks.

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Never underestimate the government’s ability to suck the fun out of, well, everything.

As Ottawa kicks off its summer Sunday Bikeday series, the National Capital Commission — the federal body that regulates the touristy areas of Ottawa and Gatineau—has put out a call for young entrepreneurs.

Though it’s more like a cull of entrepreneurialism.

One year after an NCC officer shut down a lemonade stand two young sisters set up to quench the thirst of passersby, the NCC has implemented a permit program for child-run kiosks.

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“Are you interested in setting up your own business this summer? Do you want to gain a bit of entrepreneurial experience? We may have just the thing for you!,” the website promises.

READ MORE: Kids allowed to sell lemonade on Ottawa bike days, if they sign 3-page contract

That ‘thing’ is a free vending permit for kids aged five through 17 interested in setting up shop along the bike paths.

To get one, prospective vendors and their parents must fill out and sign a three-page contract indemnifying NCC of any legal liability, ensuring safe beverage or product standards, and of course promising bilingual signage. The NCC also requires reporting of revenue — at least seven per cent of which must be donated to charity. Better than taxes, I suppose.

But even before assembling your cardboard bar, you’re expected to go through government-sanctioned business training.

The application says kids are “strongly” recommended to take part in one of a handful of workshop dates, though the NCC’s website also says applicants will only receive their “young entrepreneur permit” — required for operating a kiosk — upon completion of training.

WATCH: Lemonade stand ambitions soured by red tape

I’m not sure government could more laughably reveal its bureaucratic instincts if it tried.

Responding to a problem that doesn’t exist? Check.

Overcomplicating a simple process? Check.

Pretending this is doing everyone a favour, when it really isn’t? Check.

What better way to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday than a firsthand example of the make-work projects that keep much of the public service in business.

READ MORE: Longtime Ontario lemonade stand is still going strong nearly two decades later

The page on the NCC’s website is titled “Calling all young entrepreneurs!” as though this policy signals something to be celebrated.

NCC senior manager Bruce Devine told Global News that his office “simplified the process a lot.” Compared to setting up a regular business, that may be the case. Compared to just stepping back and letting kids be kids? Hardly.

Needless to say, the stipulations are ridiculous, but in a perverse way they’re useful. These rules tell children from a young age how anti-business the government really is, surely testing the mettle of anyone who might later on wade into this territory for a living.

WATCH: Ottawa lemonade stand dad on NCC permit process

I’m surprised children aren’t required to lab-test their products to offer calorie counts on the menu and guarantee a living wage to any subcontractors who help for the day (great news for mum or dad, if so.)

Vendors will have to post bilingual signage, because the French “limonade” is too indistinguishable from “lemonade” for the average Ottawa francophone to discern, apparently.

A study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found the cost to businesses of compliance with government regulations to be $37-billion annually—with $11-billion of that going toward needless red tape. This doesn’t take into consideration the taxpayer burden of regulators auditing these things.

READ MORE: Ottawa girls’ lemonade stand shut down for not having permit

I asked Devine whether the reporting of finances and mandatory charitable contributions would be verified by his office or whether that requirement would rely on the honour system.

Devine didn’t reply to my query, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it falls upon some NCC young entrepreneur compliance analyst to pore over the finances of little Timmy’s lemonade stand to make sure his donation was based on gross revenue rather than net profit.

It may sound clichéd to say we should let kids be kids, but such advice needs to be heeded. Getting young people accustomed to entrepreneurialism is a good idea, but let’s not pretend that every children’s car wash, lemonade stand or bake sale is a corporate conglomerate in the making.

Kids are looking for fun activities, but it used to be a lot easier for parents to play along with them.

Andrew Lawton is host of The Andrew Lawton Show on AM980 London and a commentator for Global News.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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