Bureaucrats at all levels of government love to complain about how their good intentions are either ignored or misinterpreted and that they are just trying to use their knowledge and experience for what's good for the communities and people they serve.
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the good intentions of civil servants is an immaculate one-way six-lane highway to not only eternal damnation but endless obstacles for those whose good intentions are to grow the economy, create jobs and pay taxes.
Those bureaucratic good intentions were on full display Monday night at Prince George city council, with staff recommending Grasshopper Retail Inc. only receive a three-year temporary use permit to open a private legal marijuana store on George Street. The idea is that if mayor and council are unhappy with the impact of the store on downtown, they can yank Grasshopper's business licence and shut the store down.
Spot the scheme cooked up by career civil servants that have never owned and/or operated their own business with no idea about financing. A small business person with a bright idea makes a case to a financial institution for a commercial loan, stating a well-considered operation plan. If Grasshopper isn't backed by private investors and needs financing, that temporary use permit is a red tape noose. Why would a commercial lender invest in any business that can be shut down by local government after three years for no reason?
Instead of considering the positive impacts of job creation and increased tax revenue, the bureaucrats coughed about fuzzy unpleasantries from opening a legal pot shop on George Street.
That's not open for business, unless it's for the right kind of retailers offering the right kind of products to the right kind of customers, as decided by the earnest gatekeepers.
Entrepreneurs deserve the confidence and support of local government, not sanctimonious tut-tutting from anxious paper pushers. Grasshopper and other entrepreneurs like them are the ones with the skin in the game. The only skin in the game for bureaucrats is a justification for their salary.
If entrepreneurs have completed their paperwork thoroughly and accurately, if they have met all legal and financial requirements, if they have a plan in place to be good neighbours and mitigate any issues as they arise, then their proposals should be brought to city council for approval, minus the sermonizing based on little to no evidence.
City council shouldn't tolerate any staff-induced impediments on private investment. The political masters, not the hired hands, decide on behalf of the people what's best for the community.
Furthermore, city council should also let residents decide whether those entrepreneurs will be successful or not. If customers don't support a retail business, that store will close. Residents will vote with their feet and their dollars. In other words, city council should have granted business licences to both downtown pot shop applications Monday night and dumped the temporary use permit. Even after approval, those entrepreneurs would still have substantial financial and administrative hurdles to overcome around operating a successful business and selling cannabis under the supervision of a provincial agency. So why can't local government worry about something else and stay out of the way?
While there were compelling reasons brought forward why the Third Avenue cannabis store application shouldn't be allowed, city council was wrong to refuse. As Coun. Terri McConnachie, the lone council dissenter, rightly pointed out, there are plenty of safeguards in place to prevent the young clients of the nearby Intersect Youth and Family Services from even entering the store, never mind buying anything.
As for Intersect executive director Shannon Croy's argument that the nearby store could harm their young clients already facing significant mental health and/or substance abuse challenges, she needs to reverse the lens. The parents and children needing Intersect's help arrive there with a tragic amount of challenges and burdens that present a far more clear and present danger to their well-being than the wares of said nearby store.
If this city council truly wants to supports its economic development team's open for business message, staff need to be directed to focus more on assisting entrepreneurs and less on their judgmental good intentions. Unless there is an obvious danger to the health and safety of local residents (based on reality, not just some nail-biting anxiety about the kids), city council should approve these and other entrepreneurial applications enthusiastically, instead of draping them in red tape.
-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout