Qualitative Research on Paperwork Burden Reduction Issues

Branch and directorate:

The research was commissioned by Industry Canada's Small Business Policy Branch, which is a key contributor to the Government's overall policy agenda for small business. As part of its day-to-day activities, it conducts research to guide and inform policy development. The Branch is also responsible for the Paperwork Burden Reduction Initiative, a public–private sector partnership aimed at reducing the costs of paperwork and regulatory compliance for small businesses.


In Advantage Canada: Building a Strong Economy for Canadians (released in fall 2006 with The Economic and Fiscal Update), the Government of Canada committed to reducing the administrative burden on business by cutting paperwork by 20 percent. Following the preliminary results of Statistics Canada's Survey of Regulatory Compliance Costs, it was deemed necessary to conduct qualitative research to get a pulse check from businesses on their perceptions of paperwork burden and to seek their views on approaches to reducing it.

Anticipated outcomes / benefits:

The results of this research will provide Industry Canada with additional perspectives to consider as part of its ongoing environmental analysis of paperwork burden issues. Results will help inform policy options, gauge awareness of the initiative and test related messaging.

Research Information:

The qualitative research was carried out on December 7, 2006, in Ottawa. Decima conducted three mini-groups; two in English and one in French. A total of 15 participants, five per session, were invited to participate in the groups and 14 were present (five each in the first two groups and four in the third). The focus groups were conducted among senior decision-makers responsible for compliance with the Government of Canada paperwork requirements. Decima recruited from different industry sectors and sizes to ensure representation from small- and medium-sized businesses (no more than 100 employees).


The project was contracted to Decima Research in December 2006.

Contract Number: U5450-6-2025
Contract issued by: PWGSC
Total cost: $23 424

Qualitative Research on Paperwork Burden Reduction Issues—Final Report, February 28, 2007

Qualitative Research on Paperwork Burden Reduction Issues

Final Report
February 28  2007

POR number 292-06

Prepared for: Industry Canada

Communications and Marketing Branch
C.D. Howe Building
Room 442D, 235 Queen Street
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0H5
Telephone: 343-291-3578
Fax: 613-952-5162
Email: janis.camelon@canada.ca

Contract number : U5450-062025/001/CY
Contract award date: December 5, 2006

Prepared by : Decima Research

Table of Contents

Executive Summary
Research FindingsAppendix


Decima Research is pleased to submit the following report summarizing the results of qualitative research conducted on behalf of Industry Canada.

The purpose of the research was to better understand the nature of businesses' perceptions of the problems relating to paper burden in Canada. The focus groups also explored reaction to two proposed approaches to determine the one that could potentially make the most improvement in the paperwork burden borne by businesses.

The qualitative research was carried out over the course of one night, December 7, 2006, in Ottawa. We conducted three mini-groups; two in English and one in French. A total of 15 participants, 5 per session, were invited to participate in the groups and14 were present (5 each in the first two groups and 4 in the third group). The focus groups were conducted among senior decision-makers responsible for compliance with the Government of Canada paperwork requirements. We recruited from different industry sectors and size to ensure representation from small and medium sized businesses (no more than 100 employees).

Note: For the purposes of this report, it is important to note that focus group research is a form of scientific, social, policy and public opinion research. As structured, restricted, group interviews that proceed according to a careful research design and attention to the principles of group dynamics, focus groups should be distinguished from "discussion groups", "problem-solving groups", "buzz groups", or "brainstorming groups". They are not designed to help a group reach a consensus or to make decisions, but rather to elicit the full range of ideas, attitudes, experiences and opinions of a selected sample of participants on a defined topic. Because of the small numbers involved, however, the participants cannot be expected to be thoroughly representative in a statistical sense of the larger population from which they are drawn and findings cannot reliably be generalized beyond their number.

Because qualitative research is exploratory in nature, MRIA (Market Research and Intelligence Association) guidelines preclude researchers from using any quantifiable terms to describe data (i.e. two out of ten, one in four). Rather, it is more appropriate to use terms such as "few", "many", "almost all", or other generic terms. These are the terms that are presented in this report.

Executive Summary

This report represents the culmination of three focus groups in Ottawa on December 7, 2006. The focus groups were conducted with senior decision makers responsible for compliance with the federal government paperwork requirements. The businesses were selected to represent a mix of small and medium sized firms (no more than 100 employees) across a range of sectors. The purpose of the research was to better understand the nature of businesses' perceptions of the problems relating to paper burden in Canada. The findings of our research suggest that:

  • Most participants have not experienced an overwhelming sense of urgency or frustration around paper burden. Indeed, most have explored alternative solutions such as outsourcing or acquiring software to facilitate an internal process. Overall most participants treat compliance with federal government requirements as due diligence and part of running a business.
  • Complaints about government paper burden were most often with respect to compliance at the municipal or provincial level. For example, participants described compliance with the Government of Quebec as far more onerous than complying with those required by the federal government.
  • Complying with the GST requirements tends to be the paperwork burden that comes up most frequently. Along the lines of our previous finding about provincial government requirements, many participants suggest an integrated tax requirement that combines the PST and GST would simplify this process.
  • Very few, if any, participants had heard of the government's target to reduce paper burden. It was difficult for participants to conceive how both the time and amount of paperwork could be reduced by 20%.
  • Of the two, the majority of participants believe a reduction in the amount of time would be the most important and noticeable outcome. This they felt they could see in the actual time they freed up to do other business or a potential reduction in the fees from their accounting suppliers.

Research Findings

Is there a Paper Burden?

The focus groups began with a general discussion about paper burden and the extent to which this is a source of frustration among Canadian businesses. This warm-up provided useful context for the remainder of the discussion.

What we found is that perceptions about paper burden vary depending on: business size; whether the business is incorporated; the number of years in operation; and, whether payroll and accounting services are outsourced.

While most participants acknowledged that paper burden can be an issue, there was a sense that it was not a real source of frustration for most participants. Indeed, several participants argued that there is no paperwork burden for their business. Some explained this lack of burden to the fact that they outsource their payroll and accounting requirements, while others had invested in internal proprietary software to facilitate government requirements, and still others indicated that federal government requirements are simply not burdensome for their business.

Further, many participants were of the view that paper burden related to federal government obligations had diminished in the past few years. Several credited the improvement to the availability and access to e-forms and to online initiatives. Online submissions of Government of Canada forms were identified as a great improvement, although some replied that a firm needed to be properly registered to submit their forms online and that this process was often too complicated; the instructions too complicated and the process too time consuming.

"The provincial requirements for Quebec are much more onerous than the federal requirements."

For many, compliance at the municipal and provincial level was perceived as a far greater burden than those required by the federal government. This was especially evident among participants from Quebec, but also as it relates to the GST and PST filings for those businesses from Ontario.

What is Paper Burden?

The following discussion revealed an important finding: participants did not generally understand that paperwork burden referred to more than the time spent filling in forms. As the discussion unfolded, a number of irritants were revealed that participants did not automatically associate with paper burden:

  • Time and money spent by businesses when understanding and complying with information obligations stemming from government regulations;

    "My biggest challenge is the time it takes to comply. I can spend many hours in a day to this, filling out forms, payroll, anything. It's devoting the time that's hard."

  • Administrative costs that go above and beyond the daily operational activities of running a business, such as: completing government forms, reporting information to government, obtaining assistance to understand or comply with information obligations, or following up with government to clarify information reported;
  • The costs incurred when hiring an external service provider (e.g., accountant, tax specialist or payroll service provider) for compliance purposes; and
  • Information obligations including reporting, recording or storing specific information about the business' operations.

Major Burdens

In the context of the irritants outlined above, the most commonly mentioned burdens included:

  • The GST is identified most often and most passionately as the most demanding of government of Canada requirements. Participants find that the process is onerous because of the way the forms have to be filed, getting all the right and required information, and the initial learning process that make the GST process burdensome.

    Further complicating matters with the GST process is the requirement to complete provincial sales tax forms as well. It is not surprising that the most commonly mentioned solution would be to merge all tax filings.

    "We have two forms of value-added tax here in Ontario. What I do with GST and PST is really annoying and should be one process. The province and the feds should get together on this. That would be a productive move."

  • Unclear instructions on government forms and government processes are also mentioned as a common frustration. Often, businesses are not sure where to get the information that is required. Additionally, the forms are written for the average business which can be frustrating when dealing with exceptions.
  • The complexity of the process was also identified as a burden, particularly payroll deductions and records of employment.
  • Others indicated it was the time and effort needed to be devoted to filling in all the forms that was burdensome.
  • Finally, there is a sense that some forms have gotten lengthier over the years to accommodate countless waivers and disclaimers.

How are Companies Meeting These Challenges?

Depending on a number of unique factors, Canadian businesses are finding solutions to alleviate the paper burden in their companies.

One of the most common alternatives is to outsource payroll and accounting services to specialists and intermediaries because it is more time consuming and expensive for a firm to undertake these activities in-house. Participants take comfort in the fact that by having an accountant responsible for payroll and accounting, the firm does not risk being penalized and paying fees if there are errors in their reports. Penalty fees and associated paperwork hassles were mentioned on numerous occasions and it was considered good insurance to outsource these services.

Some participants, generally smaller companies with fewer employees, have investigated other alternatives such as accounting computer software that speeds the process considerably.

How Could the Process be Simplified?

To simplify the process of complying with government of Canada requirements, participants had a number of suggestions:

  • Continue simplifying the forms
  • Continue simplifying communications (instructions)
  • Continue improving on-line processes
  • Streamline redundancies
    • In particular respondents would prefer not to have to repeat information across forms and time intervals. They suggested that if the forms could be populated automatically with relevant tombstone data, that could significantly improve the process.

"If they could auto-fill or pre-print forms with information we've already submitted, that would be a huge improvement. They should be able to retrieve the data they already collected from us so we don't have to re-input it."

"A sure way to streamline would be if there was a way to not have to put the info in again and again. There is no reason why they can't streamline double work. Payroll is based on info; there is no reason why they can't streamline info so not duplicating."

What about the Government's 20% Reduction Target?

One of the main objectives of the research was to explore participants' reaction to the government's target to reduce paper burden by 20%. This part of the discussion also involved testing two possible scenarios for improvement.

Although some participants vaguely remembered hearing something about a target to reduce paperwork by 20%, no one was able to recall any details of the announcement. That being said, participants had a difficult time understanding the reduction. Most do not believe it is possible and in fact, some suggested that the announcement was a political, election move.

"To reduce by 20%, I expect they would get rid of some forms."

"I don't think it will make much difference at all. What is an hour here or there? Government is always changing and forms change so I don't think it will happen."

After they've given it more thought, participants generally believe that any improvement would be good. In real terms, however, respondents had a hard time understanding or imagining how the government could show or measure progress in this area. It was deemed to be an almost impossible task. Asked how they would know whether the government had attained its objectives, respondents had a very difficult time coming up with concrete measures. Those who outsource supposed their accountant bills may diminish if it took their accountant less time to process the payroll. Other (prompted) benefits included being able to spend more time on their business, with their clients and their products.

"20% reduction of a bad thing is a good thing."

"I would know they achieved this target when the accountants don't raise their fees from year to year. I wouldn't see a change in my day-to-day operations."

Respondents did not spontaneously understand that the 20% reduction would not necessarily have direct benefits for their business. They were explained that this reduction may not affect certain sectors, for example.

When presented two potential benefits of the reduction target, respondents had a difficult time making a distinction between 20% reduction in paperwork and 20% in time. They perceive that one would ultimately lead to another.

That being said, overall, respondents did tend to lean toward the 20% reduction in time; although those who do not perceive there is a problem were hard pressed to say what they would do with the very little extra time this would mean for them.

When asked whether they would still outsource their services if the federal government reduced paperwork burden by 20%, virtually all said they would continue to do so because they value the specialists' expertise and the 20% value would not have much of an impact on their business.


Recruitment Screener

Decima (Industry Canada Paperwork Reduction Dec 06 REC PWGSC)

Questionnaire #______________
Date of Last
# of previous groups___________

Ottawa: Recruit 5 per group
Thursday December 7, 2006 Honorarium: $175.00
Group 1 English: 5:00pm 1 $ 175 Study# 90228
Group 2 French: 6:30pm 2 $ 175 LD Code 921
Group 3 English: 8:00pm 3 $ 175
Respondent's name:______________________ Interviewer:_______
Respondent's phone #: (home)______________ Date:____________
Respondent's phone #: (work)______________ Validated:________
Respondent's fax #:____________sent?____or Quality Central:_____
Respondent's e-mail :___________sent?_____ On List:__________
Sample source (circle): eVox, random, client, referral On Quotas:_______


May I please speak to a senior decision maker in your organization who could speak about the impact, on your firm, of complying with the Government of Canada paperwork requirements? By this I mean regulations related to …

  • taxation, such as the T4 summary;
  • employment such as payroll remittances; or
  • mandatory Statistics Canada surveys.

Note the appropriate individual should be someone like a human resources or payroll accountant manager.

If not available, ask for their name and an appropriate time to call back.

Hello, my name is______________. I'm calling from Decima Research Inc., a national marketing research firm on behalf of Industry Canada. We are calling to invite people to a group discussion on issues related to small and medium Canadian businesses. Explain focus groups emphasizing no sales, research only and confidentiality. Up to five people like yourself will be taking part. But before we invite you to attend, we need to ask you a few questions to ensure that we get a good mix/variety of people. May I ask you a few questions to see if you qualify for the research session?

  • Yes Continue
  • No Ask If Anyone Else In The Household Might Be Interested

If Not Thank and Terminate

Participation is voluntary. We are interested in hearing your opinions, no attempt will be made to sell you anything or change your point of view. The format is a "round table" discussion led by a research professional.

Monitoring text:

Read To All: "This call may be monitored or audio taped for quality control and evaluation purposes."

Additional Clarification if Needed:

  • to ensure that I (the interviewer) am reading the questions correctly and collecting your answers accurately;
  • to assess my (the interviewer) work for performance evaluation;
  • to ensure that the questionnaire is accurate/correct (i.e. evaluation of CATI programming and methodology — we're asking the right questions to meet our clients' research requirements — kind of like pre-testing).
  • If the call is audio taped, it is only for the purposes of playback to the interviewer for a performance evaluation immediately after the interview is conducted or it can be used by the Project Manager/client to evaluate the questionnaire if they were unavailable at the time of the interview — all audio tapes are destroyed after the evaluation.

1a) Can I confirm that you are primarily responsible for your firm's compliance with the Government of Canada paperwork requirements?

  • Yes Continue
  • No (find the right person)

1b) Can you please tell me your position within the firm?


1c) How long has the company been in operation?

3 years or less 1 1, 2, 3 Try To Obtain Mix
4-10 years 2
10 years + 3
Don't know 4  

3) Do you or any member of your household work in any of the following areas?: Read List

  Yes No
Marketing Research/Marketing Department/Marketing 1 2
Advertising 1 2
Media Organization (TV, Radio, Newspaper, Magazine) 1 2
Public Relations 1 2
Government 1 2

If Yes To Any Of The Above Industries, Thank and Terminate

4) In what industry does your company operate?

Manufacturing 1
Construction 2
Transportation/Airlines 3
Communications and Utilities 4
Wholesale Trade 5
Retail Trade 6
Finance and Insurance 7
Real Estate 8
Business and Personal Services 9
Government Services (federal, provincial, or municipal) 10 Thank and Terminate
Education 11
Health and Social Services 12
Accommodation, Food and Beverages 13
Other:[Specify]____________ 77
DK/RF 99 Thank and Terminate

5) And approximately how many employees does your company have?

1-4 1 1, 2, 3 Try To Obtain a Mix
5-19 2
20-99 3
100+ 4 Thank and Terminate

6) Is this location your … Read List

Head office 1
A branch office 2
Only office 3
Other location type 4

7) Note Respondent's Gender (by Observation, Do Not Ask):

Male 1
Female 2

8) Sometimes participants are also asked to write out their answers to a questionnaire, read or watch a TV commercial during the discussion. Is there any reason why you could not participate?

Yes 1 Thank and Terminate
No 2  

Terminate if respondent offers any reason such as sight or hearing problem, a written or verbal language problem, a concern with not being able to communicate effectively or if you have a concern.

Group table:

As I mentioned earlier, the group discussion will take place the evening of Thursday December 7 @ Time for 1.5 hours. Would you be willing to attend?

Yes 1  
No 2 Thank and Discontinue

Thursday December 7, 2006
Group 1 English 5:00pm 1 $ 175
Group 2 French 6:30pm 2 $ 175
Group 3 English 8:00pm 3 $ 175

Privacy Questions (including P3)

Now I have a few questions that relate to privacy, your personal information and the research process. We will need your consent on a few issues that enable us to conduct our research. As I run through these questions, please feel free to ask me any questions you would like clarified.

P1) First, we will be providing the hosting facility and session moderator with a list of respondents' names and profiles (screener responses) so that they can sign you into the group. Do we have your permission to do this? I assure you it will be kept strictly confidential.

Yes 1 Go To P2
No 2 Read Respondent Info Below

We need to provide the facility hosting the session and the moderator with the names and background of the people attending the focus group because only the individuals invited are allowed in the session and the facility and moderator must have this information for verification purposes. Please be assured that this information will be kept strictly confidential. Go To P1A

P1a) Now that I've explained this, do I have your permission to provide your name and profile to the facility?

Yes 1 Go To P2
No 2 Thank and Terminate

P2) An audio and/or video tape of the group session will be produced for research purposes. The tapes will be used only by the research professional to assist in preparing a report on the research findings and will be destroyed once the report is completed.

Do you agree to be audio and/or video taped for research purposes only?

Yes 1 Thank and Go To Invitation
No 2 Read Respondent Info Below

It is necessary for the research process for us to audio/video tape the session as the researcher needs this material to complete his report. I assure you it is kept strictly confidential and it will be destroyed as when the research is complete. Go To P2A

P2a) Now that I've explained this, do I have your permission for audio/video taping?

Yes 1 Thank and Go To Invitation
No 2 Thank and Terminate

Attendance instructions:


Do you have a pen handy so that I can give you the address where the group will be held? It will be held at:

Opinion Search, Elgin Room
Address: 160 Elgin Street, Suite 1800
Wheelchair Access: to Building and Washrooms
Parking: Street, Attached and Municipal

Entry Instructions to Building: Enter via revolving doors on Elgin Street. After 6:00 p.m. and weekends, please check-in with security.
Directions to Facility: "Place Bell Canada" Building. Nearest major intersection is Elgin Street and Laurier Avenue. Located on Elgin Street between Nepean Street and Gloucester Street.

Directions from Airport:

  • Take the airport parkway
  • Continue on Bronson Avenue (Parkway becomes Bronson)
  • Turn right onto Nepean Street
  • We're on your left between Metcalfe and Elgin Streets

The discussion would last approximately 1.5 hours and you will be given $175.00 to thank you for your time.

We ask that you arrive fifteen minutes early to be sure you find parking, locate the facility and have time to check-in with the hosts. The hosts may be checking respondents' identification prior to the group, so please be sure to bring some personal identification with you (for example, a driver's license). If you require glasses for reading make sure you bring them with you as well.

As we are only inviting a small number of people, your participation is very important to us. If for some reason you are unable to attend, please call us so that we may get someone to replace you. You can reach us at 1-800-363-4229 x5068 at our office. Please ask for xxx. Someone will call you the day before to remind you about the discussion.

So that we can call you to remind you about the focus group or contact you should there be any changes, can you please confirm your name and contact information for me? [Read Info We Have And Change As Necessary.]

First name __________________________________
Last name __________________________________
Title _______________________________________
Company name _____________________________
Day time phone number ______________________
Night time phone number _____________________
Fax number ________________________________
Email _____________________________________
Address ___________________________________

If the respondent refuses to give his/her first or last name or phone number please assure them that this information will be kept strictly confidential in accordance with the privacy law and that it is used strictly to contact them to confirm their attendance and to inform them of any changes to the focus group. If they still refuse Thank and Terminate

Moderator's Guide

1. Introduction and Warm-Up (5)

The moderator will take a few minutes to go around the table and ask respondents to introduce themselves, and outline a few ground rules: want to ensure that people share their views openly, let everyone participate, want people to talk about their views, not "other people's views", ensure that we don't want people to "debate" each other — everyone's views are valid, there are no right or wrong answers. The moderator will also point out that there is a one-way mirror, observers in the back, and audio and video taping, but ensure that all discussion is confidential.

2. Introduction and General Views (20)

Paperwork is a reality faced by all businesses. Tonight we are going to talk about the types of paperwork that you complete for the federal government.

  • To begin, what comes to mind when you think of paper burden?
  • Thinking of your business in particular, what are the top paper burden irritants?

    (Moderator: Here we are looking to see what irritants are mentioned top of mind. Be particularly attentive to any irritants that involve time or quantity.)

    If time or quantity mentioned here or at any other time in the group, probe:

    • What is it about time or quantity?
    • Why is that particularly irritating?
    • What does it mean for your business?
    • What are the repercussions?
    • (If mention a specific form) What is it about that form that is a hassle/irritating?
  • Which of the following statements is closer to your own view: complying with regulations or requirements is just a part of your business OR complying is a significant burden?

    If a burden, probe:

    • What are your key concerns?
    • Are they related to cost?
    • Complexity?
    • Time and resources spent?
    • Number of rules or regulations?
    • Why do you say that?

    (Probe thoroughly)

  • What is your firm's approach to dealing with paperwork required by the Government of Canada?


    • Human resources devoted to this, including training?
    • Number of people dedicated?
    • Outsource?
    • Specialists in-house?
    • Equipment, such as investments in software?
  • Compared to a few years ago, how would you describe the efforts expended by your firm to comply with Government of Canada paperwork generally?


    • Better, same, worse? (Probe for the impact on the firm)

3. Government Commitment (20)

  • Are you aware of the Government of Canada's commitment to reduce businesses' paper burden?

    It's important to note here that we are talking about reduction in paper burden/paperwork AND NOT about deregulation (approvals, wait times, etc.). I want to ensure that we are all focused on the reduction of red tape for businesses.

  • The Government of Canada is committed to reduce businesses' paper burden by 20%.
    • Were you aware of that? If so, where did you hear about this?

    (GoC's economic and fiscal update, CFIB etc)

  • Whether or not you had heard about this 20% commitment before tonight, knowing this is the target, what are your overall impressions?
    • Realistic? Credible?
  • In your view, what would be a realistic timeline for the federal government to meet this 20% reduction objective?
  • How would you like to see the federal government measure this 20% reduction?
    • Why do you say that?
    • Why would that make a difference to your firm?
    • (If Mentioned Spontaneously) What are the concrete ways improvements would be seen in your firm?
      (e.g. would not have to outsource to accountant, would file information less often, etc.)
  • How would you measure the government's success in this area?
  • How would your firm know whether the government has been successful in reaching the 20% reduction?


    • What concrete things would you see?
    • What burden would be alleviated?
    • What would change in your firm's day-to-day business dealings/workings?
    • Why is this important?

Next Two Bullets are Priority Areas

  • Do you think there would be a real impact for your business if the government's target is met by reducing by 20% the amount of time that an average small business spends in complying with regulation requirements, understanding that your business may be different from the average small business?
    • What would this mean for your business?
    • Why would this have/not have a significant impact?
    • Would you support this approach?
  • Do you think there would be a real impact for your business if the government's target is met by reducing by 20% the overall number of regulatory requirements for businesses, even if there is a chance that the regulatory requirements that end up being reduced have no direct relevance or impact for your business?
    • What impact would this have for your business? Why?
    • Why would this be / not be an appropriate approach for your business?

    Note To Moderator: Some of these may be obsolete or phased out or not pertain to your sector.

    Note To Moderator: if credibility of process raised spontaneously, respond by providing example of Quebec and Nova Scotia's success in collaborating with businesses. The reduction in time was measured by adding up the time to complete the forms before the changes, and after.

4. Specific Issues (20)

Now, I'd like to do a little exercise. I'd like to have you fill out this form and then we'll discuss your answers.

Please rank each of the following items from 1 to 4 with 1 being the one that is most irritating to you.

  1. Too many Government of Canada requirements and regulations
  2. Too many Government of Canada forms to fill out
  3. Too much time needed to fill out Government of Canada paperwork related to regulations
  4. Too much cost associated with filling out Government of Canada paperwork related to regulations
  5. Other irritant (please specify)
    • Why did you rank that 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc?
    • Which would have the greatest impact on your business if it were the basis for the government's 20% reduction? Why do you say that?
    • Which would be the easiest for the government to use as the basis for the 20% reduction? Why do you say that?

Solutions (If Mentioned Spontaneously)

If participants mention solutions spontaneously probe:

  • Would this solution have an impact on your business? How? Why?
    • Putting forms online?
    • Having businesses file less often?
    • Making forms simpler to fill out?
    • Making forms less redundant?

5. Conclusions and Wrap-up

  • Do you have any other comments or recommendations?