• O’Neill, K., Zon, N., & Johal, S. (2024) Tackling Canada's Time Tax . Canadian Standards Association, Toronto, ON.

Executive Summary

A “time tax” is paperwork or an administrative burden that people encounter when accessing government services. It wastes people’s time, it wastes public resources, it is levied disproportionately on people who need the most support, and it reduces trust in government.

While governments often prioritize improving overall efficiency in their operations or cutting “red tape” for businesses, little attention has been paid to reducing the time tax and how it hurts individuals. This is for a range of systemic, cultural, and structural reasons.

Recently, however, increased international attention to the time tax and domestic attention to improving service delivery have opened an opportunity for Canada to prioritize reducing the time tax. This report highlights 18 actionable approaches to address the underlying sources of the time tax, across four areas:

  • Organizing for government success
  • Measuring and understanding burdens
  • Using new tools and technologies
  • Focusing on users, accountability, and transparency

These approaches cannot be carried out in isolation. Instead, different orders of government will need to come together with concerted, whole-of-government and cross-government approaches to confront the time tax.

Reducing the time tax on public services saves time and money for both citizens and governments. But more importantly, it improves service delivery and reduces equity gaps, with more programs reaching more people in the way the programs were intended. Reducing the time tax is both necessary and possible. This report outlines a number of ways to move forward, building on interest and commitment from governments and communities.