Let’s say you’re a Yukon entrepreneur who wants to open a restaurant.
You’ve got a vacant space in a building in downtown Whitehorse already picked out. You’ve even had some discussions about tenancy with the landlord.
You’re ready to move forward with a business plan — which means you’re about to plunge headfirst into a quagmire of red tape.
Operating a business in Whitehorse — or anywhere else in Canada for that matter — typically requires licences and permits from three levels of government: federal, territorial (or provincial) and municipal.
The kind of permits and licences you need will vary with the type of business you’re trying to build.
Enter BizPal, a free online service provided by the same governments that regulate entrepreneurs.
“A simple question-and-answer wizard gives you a customized list of all the permits and licences you need, it asks your location and what type of business you want to start up,” explained Debbie Amson, a project manager with the territorial department of Community Services.
“Starting a business shouldn’t be as frustrating an experience as it turns out to be because people can’t find licences or permits.”
BizPal is a joint venture involving three levels of government to make that process easier.
“It’s huge, because that kind of co-operation between the three levels of government hasn’t been done before,” said Amson, who has been working with Industry Canada since 2003 to set up BizPal in the Yukon.
Launched in December 2005, BizPal functions as a navigation tool at the crossroads of regulation and industry.
You access it by logging on the internet at www.bizpal.ca and following the links to your specific jurisdiction.
In the Yukon, that could be any one of nine communities listed on the website — including “Yukon, Unincorporated.”
“We’ve mapped out all of our municipalities — Carmacks, Haines Junction — we’re the first to do all of that,” said Amson.
“We launched as a complete territory, which is really exciting. Wherever you want to do your business, you can get that info.”
BizPal tells you what permits you need to set up shop, and where to get them.
For example, your Whitehorse restaurant needs a municipal business licence, a territorial “permit to operate a food premises,” maybe a Yukon liquor licence, and maybe a Whitehorse plumbing permit if you’re renovating.
Things would be different if you wanted to open a mechanic’s garage in Watson Lake. Different, but not necessarily less complex.
Starting a business is never a matter of simply finding investors, buying some equipment and hiring staff.
“When you see all the bureaucracy you have to go through, you might say, ‘Good God, I’m not going to start the business,’ and that’s the downside,” said Dale Kozmen, director of the consumer and safety services branch of Community Services.
“But it’s better knowing from the start, rather than finding out later on,” said Kozmen.
“The mandate of our government is to look at practical electronic means to assist, and this is right on.”
BizPal’s Yukon application has more than 200 business types in its database, he said.
Most people want to comply with business rules, but they get caught on rules they didn’t know about, added Kozmen.
“This is a really great tool for that. It’s a tool that can be applied in many areas.”
Six Canadian jurisdictions signed onto the BizPal pilot project: Halton and Ontario; Kamloops and British Columbia; Whitehorse and Yukon.
Others, like Saskatchewan, are piggybacking on the Yukon work.
“We were the first to launch nationally, and everybody is following,” said Amson.
Setting up BizPal probably cost about $2.5 million for the efforts of federal employees who designed the computer system, and perhaps 80 territorial employees who tailored it for the Yukon, Kozmen said.
“There are 20 or 30 people working on it at any one time.”
Feedback about the system has mostly come from e-mails and word-of-mouth, and all of it has been positive, said Amson.
“You don’t have to be starting a business; you can also just want to know where to go to get a particular permit,” she said.
“It’s economy driven, but it doesn’t isolate the rest of the population.
“I may not want to start my own business, but it still lets me research what permits I need to build my deck. If you know what kind of permit you want you can just cruise that part of the website.
“If you want an electrical permit, you can search that out, find out who to call and where to go.”
After two months, it’s still too early to say if BizPal has helped get a business off the ground.
But it was recently nominated for a public service award.
And BizPal has become a program staple at Dana Naye Ventures.
“It takes days of committed legwork — going to all the different departments, hoping to talk to the right person — and takes it down to the few clicks of the mouse,” said Kim Solonick, a business support officer at Dana Naye.
Solonick teaches BizPal in her course on preparing a business feasibility study.
“Any time I meet with clients I tell them that, from an operations point of view, they need to know what kind of licences and permits they need to have,” said Solonick.
“You can download the forms. If there’s a fee attached, you still have to go to the office and pay the fee.
“But other than that it has taken so much of the legwork out of the process for clients.”
And there’s room to grow.
Eventually BizPal will include capacity to complete transactions online, so would-be entrepreneurs can skip the step of physically visiting the appropriate permitting offices to fill out forms and write cheques for licences, said Amson.
“We don’t have any online applications at the moment,” she said.
“It doesn’t have to be just licence and permit information.
“The skeleton of this is already there, and it can lead to anything, can hook into anything.”