Ottawa, ON - Member of Parliament and Candidate for Prime Minister Pierre Poilievre announced today he would pass a Plain Language Law to require that government publish information in the simplest and the fewest words needed.
Overly complex wording costs the economy a fortune. In 2020, Canadian businesses spent 731 million hours trying to comply with government regulations. When the Canadian Federation for Independent Business asked what governments could do to cut unnecessary red tape, the number one response—from 79% of small businesses—was “simplifying existing regulation and using plain language.” “Overly-complex rules, forms, and guidance hurt job-creators and ordinary Canadians and help crafty consultants game the system for the rich clients and big corporations who can afford them” said Poilievre.
The Canadian government’s plain language policy is a single, short sentence buried in a 23-page, 5,066-word “Directive on the Management of Communications.” It asks “heads of communication” to make “communications clear, timely, accurate, accessible and written in plain language.” But the rules are routinely ignored. For example, the government’s online style guide recommends that instead of saying ‘obtain,’ writers should say ‘get.’ However, a search of the Government of Canada’s website turns up more than 441,000 results for the word “obtain.”
Too often bureaucracies write things that no one—including the bureaucrats—understand. This makes it impossible for citizens to understand the rules or public servants to enforce them. Fuzzy writing goes along with fuzzy thinking. Errors in logic hide behind jargon and buzzwords. By contrast, clear writing requires clearer thinking. “The Plain Language Act will make government writing and thinking simpler and clearer. The new rule will be that ‘everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler’ “said Poilievre. This rule still leaves room for technical terms and terms of art where they are necessary to provide clarity for persons affected by the law or regulation.
Passing a law is just the first step. It won’t end ‘bureaucratese’ overnight. Simplifying language in thousands of documents will take time. But “we need to start somewhere, set clear deadlines and demand compliance”, said Poilievre. “Let’s make the government work for the people, not the other way around, and give people back control of their lives”.
The Plain Language Law will:
- Require government publications to use the fewest and simplest words needed to state information.
- Allow the Auditor General to audit government forms and websites to make sure they follow the Plain Language Law.
- Make plain language skills a job requirement for anyone hired to write for the government.
- Create a webpage for Canadians to report “bureaucratese.”
- Make sure bilingual language training for public servants teaches language that ordinary people speak, not academic or bureaucratic jargon that no one uses in the real world.
- Avoid the cost of rewriting everything the government has already published by applying the rule to new publications and to old publications only as they are revised.
- Require government legal drafters to write laws as simply as possible.
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