Ontario legislature in review: Fall 2020

Following a summer of urgent pandemic-related Standing Committee hearings, the Legislature resumed on September 14 until December 8, 2020, rising two days early for a two-month winter break. Legislators are due back February 16, 2021. In the meantime, here’s what nonprofits need to know about the fall sitting:

Bill 213 (Better for People, Smarter for Business Act)

Bill 218 (Supporting Ontario’s Recovery and Municipal Elections Act)

Bill 229 (Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act [Budget Measures])

Other activities related to nonprofits

What didn’t happen?

What’s next?

Bill 213 (Better for People, Smarter for Business Act)

An omnibus bill with 29 schedules, Bill 213 was sponsored by the Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction. It received Royal Assent on December 8.

How does this bill affect the nonprofit sector?

  • Schedule 2 has been highly controversial, turning Canada Christian College (CCC) into a degree-granting university. Many community members criticized CCC and its leader for discriminatory policies and practices, including the nonprofit The 519, which spoke out against the bill at committee, noting policies and practices which “effectively exclude queer people, women and religious minorities”
  • Schedule 5 (Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act), Schedule 8 (Mining Act), Schedule 9 (Ministry of the Environment Act), and Schedule 14 (Ontario Energy Board Act), and Schedule 17 (Ontario Water Resources Act) change various regulations affecting the environment and natural resources
  • Schedule 6 changes the rules on forfeited real property, including co-operative housing
  • Schedule 15 dissolves the Ontario Highway Transport Board, thereby deregulating Ontario’s inter-city bus system. While the impact is not yet known, numerous advocacy groups have warned of fewer options for transportation service in rural communities
  • Schedule 18 amends the Pension Benefits Act to allow the Financial Services Regulatory Authority to waive or change certain rules around pension plans, including the requirement for an administrator to give notice of a transfer of assets between pension plans, as well as the conversion of a plan from single-employer to a jointly sponsored pension plan
  • Schedule 22 amends the Public Lands Act to change the transfer process of “unpatented” (never been sold or granted for private use) public lands from the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to another ministry or third-party. Privatization watch: ONN will be watching to see whether this change permits the accelerated sell-off of public land via new centralized supply chain management arrangements enabled by Bill 138 in 2019 (which explicitly includes “disposing of surplus assets” as part of supply management without excluding real property)

Bill 218 (Supporting Ontario’s Recovery and Municipal Elections Act)

Thanks to Bill 218, nonprofits that have followed public health guidance in good faith now have COVID-related liability protection retroactive to March 17, 2020.

Unfortunately, the bill also protects for-profit long-term care providers, leaving many seniors groups and family members up in arms.

How does this bill affect the nonprofit sector?

  • ONN heard from many nonprofits, from sport groups to mental health to neighbourhood centres, about the challenges securing adequate insurance that covers COVID liability. Read more about the network’s COVID liability/insurance advocacy. Bill 218 addresses many nonprofits’ concerns about liability protection
  • The other schedule of Bill 218 sets back the ranked ballot movement, preventing cities (including London, which had already moved to the new voting system) from using ranked ballots in municipal elections. Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter tabled Private Member’s Bill 232 to re-enable ranked ballots at the local level (and clarify the rules for two-tier municipalities)

The Attorney General mentioned ONN’s advocacy and recognized essential workers in nonprofits and other industries in his Second Reading speech on the bill: “They’re a driving force behind our province’s success, and they are being relied on through Ontario’s recovery. We have always valued and respected the work they do, but many of us feel an even deeper appreciation now.” “The not-for-profit industries and the charities in our communities are struggling as well…They rely on volunteers. . . . it’s such an important sector and we need to step up for them.”

Bill 229 (Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act [Budget Measures])

This Budget implementation bill was tabled on November 5, when the Finance Minister presented the fall Ontario Budget. This omnibus bill received Royal Assent on December 8, just before the Legislature rose.

How does this bill affect the nonprofit sector?

  • Among other measures, the bill extends the commercial eviction ban (but not soon enough for some nonprofits), introduces a new credit union act, brings in new penalties for public sector (and some nonprofit) employers that try to skirt Bill 124 wage restraint, and makes Legions property tax-free
  • Bill 229 includes significant measures watering down three key conservation acts: the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act
  • The most publicized change is Schedule 6, which has gutted the regional conservation authorities, prompting the resignation of the Greenbelt Council, and a wave of protest from local conservation authorities and environmental groups. Instead of removing Schedule 6, the Ontario government doubled down, amending the legislation (New section 28.0.1 of the Conservation Authorities Act) to expand the use of Ministerial Zoning Orders, which creates exemptions from local planning and consultation requirements to accelerate development. It did announce new money for wetlands.
    Our complete analysis of the bill is part of our Budget analysis

On December 8, the Financial Accountability Office released a report on the provincial expenditures for the second quarter, ending September 30, 2020. The report notes that “the $12.0 billion combined remaining balance in the Health Fund, SPJF [Support for People and Jobs Fund] and Contingency Fund cannot be spent directly by the Province but must be transferred to authorized government programs before spending can occur. Given that only six months remain in the government’s fiscal year, the Province may end the fiscal year with outstanding balances in the three funds.”

As we noted in our Fall Budget analysis, $2.05 billion remains unspent in the “Support for People and Jobs Fund” and $598 million unspent, net of new projected spending, in the “COVID-19 Health Contingency Fund”. These amounts are in addition to the $2.5 billion general reserve fund the Ontario government has set aside for the year, which will also go to debt repayment if not spent. Like many in the nonprofit sector, ONN urges the Ontario government to commit these funds to urgent priorities, including stabilization funding for Ontario nonprofits.

Other activities related to nonprofits

Legislation

This bill received Royal Assent, mandating the creation of a provincial framework to improve access to palliative care in hospitals, long-term care homes, hospices, and home care settings. Many organizations testified before the Standing Committee and suggested amendments that were adopted, including improving reporting deadlines, adding a focus on under-served populations, and considering the needs of specific populations (e.g., pediatric patients). Hospice and Palliative Care Ontario provided a submission to the Committee and issued a statement to mark the unanimous passage of the Private Member’s Bill.

This bill received Royal Assent, establishing a corporation responsible for administering a financial assistance program for veterans and their family members who live in Ontario.

This bill affects commercial and residential tenants and received Royal Assent on October 1, two weeks (!) after being introduced in the Legislature, after skipping the usual Standing Committee hearings. Bill 204 extends the commercial eviction ban in Ontario and imposes a zero per cent rent hike on continuing residential tenancies in Ontario. Read the analysis of the bill from Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.

This bill was passed, was passed, amending the following acts: the Children’s Law Reform Act with respect to custody; the Family Law Act with respect to family law appeals and the calculation of child support payments. The changes align Ontario law with federal changes.

This bill would end spring-forward, fall back clock changes by making Daylight Savings Time in force year round – but will not come into effect until New York State and the province of Quebec do the same.

This bill was passed, amending the Building Transit Faster Act and the Transit-Oriented Communities Act to allow provincial transit projects other than the existing four in Toronto to be designated as “priority transit projects.” The bill accelerates the expropriation process for lands near any designated “Transit-Oriented Communities” and introduces new zoning requirements that make it easier for a development to be granted an exemption from municipal zoning laws (e.g., related to affordable housing or building heights).

Other news

  • On October 8, the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs released its final reports on the impact of COVID-19 on various industries in the province. ONN presented recommendations before the committee on the study for the small and medium (SME) sector and offered a submission to the infrastructure sector study. Of note, the committee recommended that the government explore a stabilization fund for the nonprofit sector
  • In early October, NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa staged a sit-in during the playing of the national anthem – and the colonial anthem God Save the Queen, which has been played at Legislative sittings since February
  • MPP Mamakwa is protesting the lack of clean running water in Neskantaga First Nation and, more generally, unequal access for First Nations to education, clean water, safe housing, jobs, and health care
  • On October 20, the Leader of the Official Opposition tabled a motion to “eliminate for-profit care from Ontario’s long-term care system.” The debate included moving speeches about the need to care for seniors well. The symbolic motion failed. ONN made a submission to the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission, suggesting a phase-out of licenses going to for-profit long-term care
  • On November 18 (two weeks after the Bill 229 conservation authority changes were tabled), the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario released a set of Value-for-Money Audits on “Conserving the Natural Environment with Protected Areas”; “Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Energy Use in Buildings”; and “Setting Indicators and Targets and Monitoring Ontario’s Environment”
    • The conservation audit found that “Ontario lacks an overall plan or long-term target and the staff it takes to protect the province’s parks and other protected areas.” The audit is critical of both the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks as well as the Ministry of Natural Resources, noting the latter has “not determined whether it will support First Nations’ requests to create Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, which could contribute to both reconciliation and conserving biodiversity.” The report includes concerns about the ecological impact of logging in Algonquin Park. Incidentally, the Ontario government is seeking comments on this issue until January 22, 2021
    • The second report notes that buildings are the third-largest source of emissions in Ontario, but the ministries and agencies (Municipal Affairs and Housing, Energy and Mines, and the Ontario Energy Board) that have the power to act do not focus on greenhouse gas emissions reduction in their policies
    • The report on the climate action plan notes that the government risks missing its 2030 emission reduction targets, partly because it’s not a “cross-government priority”
    • On November 27, the Environment Minister tabled an update to the Made-in-Ontario Climate Plan, which environmental groups promptly criticized, noting that Ontario’s annual greenhouse gas emissions rose for the first time in almost a decade in 2018
  • On November 25, the Auditor General also released an audit report on the Ontario Government’s response to the COVID pandemic, focused on three areas: emergency management and pandemic response; outbreak planning and decision-making; and laboratory testing, case management and contact tracing. The report found delays and systemic problems stemming from the failure to update emergency response plans, to address weaknesses in public health lab and information systems, and to address the recommendations of the 2006 SARS Commission report. The audit also found that the contracts to McKinsey & Company to develop a crisis response structure and for the school reopening strategy were “higher than standard industry rates.” A second Auditor General report on the pandemic response will focus on health spending, personal protective equipment, and long-term care. On the recent suspensions of parts of the Environmental Bill of Rights, the Auditor General found that only nine out of 276 exempted proposals were urgent and related to COVID-19
  • One of the last moves by the Legislature before rising was to unanimously pass a non-binding NDP motion to ban residential evictions after the Official Opposition accused the government of shutting the Legislature down prematurely to avoid accountability. MPPs also passed a Liberal motion calling for more transparency on the vaccine rollout and monthly government appearances at the Select Committee on Emergency Management Oversight
  • On December 10, the new French-language services commissioner in the Ombuds office released her first report, which highlights deficiencies in French services, especially during the pandemic. Burke recommended that all ministries develop plans and report annually on the implementation
  • Here is a list of regulations and statutes coming into force on January 1, 2021. It includes changes under the Connecting Care Act, the Personal Health Information Protection Act, the Housing Services Act, various environmental standards, and more
  • You can read the Ontario government’s summary of the Legislative sitting here. A full list of bills passed in 2020 is here. Our Spring/Summer 2020 analysis is here

What didn’t happen in the Legislature?

  • No COVID stabilization fund for nonprofits affected by the pandemic
    • There was, however, new money via the Ontario Trillium Foundation for sport and cultural/tourism groups in the fall Budget and other targeted measures (see our budget analysis)
    • There was a new relief measure ($10,000- $20,000 each, based on revenue declines of 20 per cent or more) for small businesses in the province-wide shutdown document released on December 21, 2020. ONN has been informed that nonprofits with 1 to 99 paid staff will be eligible if they meet all other requirements. This could be a significant source of general operating support for small nonprofits that have been struggling. More details to come in January 2021
    • There was also $12.5 million announced for a High Priority Communities Strategy to fund community agencies in 15 communities in York, Peel, Durham, Ottawa, & Toronto. Details will be released in January 2021
  • No paid sick days legislation
  • No proclamation of the Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act (ONCA)
    • ONN continues to receive reassurances from the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (MGCS) that proclamation is imminent, as they put the finishing touches on the business (enterprise) registry, which we had an opportunity to test recently
    • Motion #89 was introduced on September 17 by the MGCS Minister which provided the government with an additional year to get the details right before proclamation (ONCA would otherwise have expired if unproclaimed on December 31, 2020). The motion also provided clarity and good news regarding which sections would not be proclaimed in force. These decisions align well with the advice provided to the Ministry by ONN and the Ontario Bar Association, most recently in February 2020
    • The motion was debated and passed on September 21 with positive speeches from all parties about the importance and value of the nonprofit sector, the difficulties facing nonprofits during the COVID crisis (the Minister specifically referred to ONN’s sector survey), and the need for urgent support

What’s next?

ONN will be tracking bills through the Legislature when it resumes in February (or before, if recalled early). We’re watching the following bills:

  • Bill 13, Time to Care Act, from NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong, which would mandate an average of four hours of care per day for residents of long-term care homes, up from the current average of 2.7 hours. The bill was sent to Standing Committee on October 29, 2020. Four days later, the Ontario government announced that it would mandate the four-hour threshold, but not until 2024-25. The November 5 budget provided no timeline or cost breakdown for the new staff who will be needed to increase the hours of care
  • Bill 200, Employment Standards Amendment Act (Sick Notes) Act, from Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, which would forbid employers from requiring sick notes for absences from work
  • Bill 226, Broadband is an Essential Service Act, from NDP member John Vanthof, which requires the government to have a strategy to get high-speed internet to 95 per cent of Ontarians by 2026 and to all Ontarians by 2030
  • We’re not watching Bill 238, Workplace Safety and Insurance Amendment Act, which freezes WSIB (Workplace Safety & Insurance Board) premiums for 2021. Why not? Because the Minister of Labour already announced a multi-year premium freeze for nonprofits in September 2019 (thank you Minister McNaughton!)
  • Bill 239, Stay Home If You Are Sick Act, introduced by NDP MPP Peggy Sattler on December 8. This bill would provide workers with seven days of paid sick leave under normal circumstances and another 14 during declared emergencies and infectious disease emergencies

Stay tuned for reports on these bills and more in the next edition of What happened in the Legislature! But if you made it this far and can’t wait for the next one, you may be interested in a new app from the Legislative Assembly that livestreams debates. Get your popcorn!