Ontario legislature in review: Spring 2021

Bill 276 (Cutting red tape): Supporting Recovery and Competitiveness Act, 2021

Bill 276, Supporting Recovery and Competitiveness Act, 2021 is an omnibus bill (with 28 schedules affecting 64 laws) presented to the Ontario legislature on April 15 and received Royal Assent on June 3, 2021. With the bill, the Ontario government aims to promote public health, safeguard the environment and create jobs through a series of actions, including red tape and burden reduction measures.

How does this bill affect the nonprofit sector?

  • Schedule 2 amends Ontario Corporations Act to clarify that nonprofits are allowed to conduct meetings and votes virtually (the section that states “charities law prevails” is repealed).
  • Schedule 6 adds subsections to the Employment Standards Act on employer self-auditing and assessment of wages owed to employees.
  • Schedule 9 updates the definition of “Government Agency” in the French Language Services Act to allow the designation of municipal homes and joint homes as public service agencies.
  • Schedule 15 amends last year’s Modernizing Ontario for People and Businesses Act (MOPBA), 2020 (part of omnibus Bill 197) to replace the term “administrative cost” with “direct compliance cost” in the context of red-tape reduction initiatives.
    • “Direct compliance cost” has been given a suitably broad definition (including administrative costs as well as capital and operating costs, for example). The schedule adds language to the bill clarifying that “regulated entities” include the broader public sector.
    • MOPBA is an important bill that contains requirements for the government to reduce administrative burdens. This includes “direct compliance costs”- in the funding context, e.g., “Unnecessary reporting should be reduced, and steps should be taken to avoid requiring regulated entities to provide the same information to government repeatedly.” It also contains standards for methodologies used to  
      calculate regulatory burdens – also important as nonprofits grapple with new compliance costs. Schedule 16 enacts The Northern Ontario School of Medicine University Act. Schedule 28 creates the Université de Hearst, replacing the Collège de Hearst, also as part of the dismantling of Laurentian University.
  • Schedule 17 amends the Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act (ONCA) to permit the pandemic-related provisions around virtual meetings. (Note that ONCA will be proclaimed in force on October 19, 2021.)
    • It also reflects motion #89 passed last September by the Legislature to allow certain unproclaimed parts of the act to expire before proclamation takes place .
  • Schedule 18 repeals the requirement under the Ontario Drug Benefit Act to have a Pharmacy Council and a Citizens’ Council. Schedule 25 eliminates the Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council.
  • Schedule 20 amends the Ontario Immigration Act, 2015, with respect to regulating immigration consultants, internal reviews, and inspecting entrepreneurial establishments.
  • Schedule 21 makes major changes to the Ontario Works Act, including enabling the administration of social assistance directly by the Province in some geographic areas and outlining new powers for “delivery agents,” replacing “employment assistance” with “employment and life stabilization assistance,” making changes related to overpayments, and repealing Schedule D to the Social Assistance Reform Act (1997) which relates to the Family Benefits Act.
  • Schedule 23 and 24 make major changes to the Planning Act with respect to environmental assessments and the development of land.
  • Schedule 27 adds a new section to the Statutory Powers Procedure Act and prohibits the recording and sharing of landlord and tenant board hearings, and anyone caught doing so is liable to a fine of up to $25,000.
    • This legislative change creates additional barriers for low-income, immigrant tenants and tenants with disabilities during eviction proceedings, and makes it more difficult for organizations to advocate for tenants.

Bill 284 (Paid sick days): COVID-19 Putting Workers First Act, 2021

Bill 284, COVID-19 Putting Workers First Act, 2021 is an Act to amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000 to provide employees with an entitlement to three paid days of leave in certain circumstances related to a designated infectious disease. The paid sick days program is available retroactively from April 19, 2021 till September 25, 2021. The bill was introduced and passed on April 29, 2021 with all-party consent. 

How does this bill affect the nonprofit sector?
The intent of the bill was to offer paid sick days to cover workers during the COVID-19 testing and vaccination periods to keep those at home that might be sick, so the virus does not spread. 

  • Eligible employees:
    • Employees covered by the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and
    • Employees that do not already have paid sick days through their employer.
  • Employers are to:
    • Provide up to three days of paid leave for a COVID-19 related reason (e.g., getting tested, waiting for results, getting vaccinated, vaccination side effects,  being sick, self-isolation, taking care of someone who has COVID-19). A doctor’s note is not required.
    • Pay employees their standard wages for the day, up to a maximum amount of $200, for up to 3 days taken (do not need to be taken consecutively).
  • For employers to receive a reimbursement from government they must:
    • Apply for a reimbursement of up to a maximum amount of $200 per employee per day.
    • Apply within 120 days of when the paid leave is taken. 
  • The benefit is administered through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). WSIB will mail cheques to employers. Nonprofits that do not have a relationship with WSIB currently do not have to be registered with WSIB in order to access it. 
  • Benefit cannot replace existing paid sick days provided by employers, but it can supplement them up to three days.
  • For any longer paid sick leave, the Ontario government points workers to the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit.

ONN has been advocating for paid sick days since the early days of the pandemic (and before then) as part of our Decent Work initiative. As a sector serving communities, we know paid sick leave is essential to those most vulnerable, particularly lower-income workers. As employers, overall compensation in the nonprofit sector is less than private and public sectors, and paid sick days are one way to provide decent work, and keep our workplaces safe and healthy.

The paid sick days program offered under Bill 284 is a “step in the right direction”. However, a temporary program with three days paid leave that is only available to some workers is not enough. In order for paid sick days to work effectively, Ontario workers need a program that is permanent, accessible to all and employer-paid so workers can seamlessly transition in and out of work. Read the open letter from 80 nonprofits to the premier of Ontario, regarding the paid sick-days program.

Bill 254 (Restricting third party advertising for nonprofit election advocacy): Protecting Ontario Elections Act, 2021 &  Bill 307 – Protecting Elections and Defending Democracy Act, 2021

Bill 254 was introduced on February 25, 2021 and received royal assent on April 19, 2021. In a decision on June 8th, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice struck down various restrictions to third party political advertising contained in Bill 254 due to violations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Justice Edward Morgan said in his ruling, “elections belong to the people and not governments or political parties. Independent voices need to be heard so that important issues can be discussed during elections and not just those chosen by politicians and corporate media interests.”

On June 10th, one week after the house was adjourned, the Legislature was unexpectedly back in session for the introduction of a government bill to invoke the notwithstanding clause, a rare step the government took to negate the court’s decision. No Ontario government has ever invoked the notwithstanding clause before. Bill 307, Protecting Elections and Defending Democracy Act was introduced, which reinstates sections of the Election Finances Act struck down by the court. The bill received royal assent on June 14th, 2021.

How does this bill affect the nonprofit sector?

Bill 254/Bill 307 maintains the current $500 registration threshold (on direct election-related advertising expenses) but extends the period covered from six months to one year before the writ drops. The bill also introduces new “collusion” language against organizations sharing information, donors, and campaign strategy for the purposes of circumventing advertising spending limits. 
Since the introduction of Bill 254, the legislation has been challenged by Working Families Ontario and other groups:

  • In May 2021, Working Families Ontario and other unions launched a successful charter challenge against Bill 254, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association was granted intervenor status.
  • Working Families Coalition issued another legal challenge to the government’s invocation of the notwithstanding clause in Bill 307, based on Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees that Canadians are able to “play a meaningful role in the electoral process.” Unlike the constitutional rights the unions cited in their original case, politicians cannot use the notwithstanding clause to override Section 3 rights.
  • The NDP said the 12-month change will limit pre-election political speech from community groups that don’t register as third-party advertisers.
  • The Ontario Universities and Colleges Coalition, which represents more than 400,000 faculty and students at Ontario’s post-secondary institutions, has issued a statement condemning Bill 307, and the use of the notwithstanding clause in its passage. The group says next year’s election will be a “pivotal moment for Ontario politics,” but stops short of calling for Ontarians not to vote for the PCs. 
    ONN is conducting a detailed legal analysis of Bill 307 and will issue guidance to the sector on pre-election advocacy rules.  

Bill 269 (Budget implementation bill): Protecting the People of Ontario Act, 2021

This Budget implementation bill was tabled on March 24, when the Finance Minister presented the 2021 Ontario Budget. This omnibus bill received Royal Assent on April 27, 2021.

How does this bill affect the nonprofit sector?

  • Schedule 1 and 2 modify credit union legislation with respect to the Deposit Insurance Reserve Fund
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  • Schedule 6 creates a new Crown Corporation, Invest Ontario, and Schedule 7 mandates a new section in the annual report of the Ministry of Economic Development called “The Ontario Investment Prospectus.” Invest Ontario may be important for economic development and employment training nonprofits
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  • Schedule 10 enacts the changes to the Taxation Act with respect to the child care and job training tax credits
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  • Our complete analysis of the bill is part of our Budget analysis.

Bill 257 (Broadband and planning act): Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021

Bill 257 was introduced by the Infrastructure Minister on March 4, and received royal assent on April 12, 2021. This bill makes it easier for broadband providers to access municipal power lines, and amends the Planning Act to allow Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) to override the Provincial Policy Statement governing land use planning. This has been flagged by environmental organizations, with Environmental Defence, Ontario Nature, and Ecojustice concerned the zoning change will allow environmentally destructive projects to go forward even if they contravene basic planning rules.

Other activities related to nonprofits

Legislation

Bill 245, Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021 received royal assent on April 19. Among other things, the legislation gives the attorney general more control over judicial appointments and amalgamates five tribunals and review boards into the Ontario Land Tribunal. There are concerns that the legislation could allow political partisanship to creep into the judicial appointment process, and undermine the land-use approval process and speed it up for developers. 

Bill 261, Supply Act, 2021 was passed, giving the Ontario government the legal spending authority of certain amounts for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021.

Bill 283, Advancing Oversight and Planning in Ontario’s Health System Act, 2021 received royal assent on June 3, 2021. Among other things, the bill includes new legislation to establish a “Health and Supportive Care Providers Oversight Authority” to regulate personal support workers and their training. The bill also includes measures to improve how vaccination data is transmitted to the Ministry of Health.

Bill 251, Combating Human Trafficking Act, 2021 received royal assent on June 3, 2021, requiring hotels to keep a register of guests and record their names, residences and other prescribed information. The legislation also gives investigators the ability to inspect any place for compliance with the law and question any person on any matter that may be relevant to the inspection, with failure to comply leading to possible heavy fines. Advocates and community groups have raised concerns that the bill could harm sex workers and lead to discrimination and racial profiling.

Bill 270, Senior Volunteer Appreciation Week Act, 2021 was passed, dedicating the first seven days of June to honour seniors who work as volunteers in their communities.

Bill 285, Non-Profit Sector Appreciation Week Act, 2021 is with the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills. If passed, the bill would proclaim the third week in October as as Non-Profit Sector Appreciation Week

Other news

  • On May 26, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) released its review of the Ministry of Long-Term Care’s spending plan, which showed that the province must hire a staggering 37,000 more nurses and PSWs by 2024-25 and spend nearly 10 per cent more on long-term care every year for the rest of the decade to live up to the PC’s long term care reform promises.
  • On July 21, the FAO released the report “Expenditure Monitor 2020-21: Q4,” which found that the Ontario government underspent its own budget by about $10 billion in the last fiscal year.
  • In May 2021, the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario released its audit report “COVID-19 preparedness and management: special report on management of ehealth-related COVID-19 expenditures.”
    • The audit found Public Health Ontario and the province’s 34 public health units, which were in charge of laboratory testing and contact tracing initiatives, were cleared to receive $441 million for these efforts; but by June, they had only received $4.9 million, leaving public health units unsure how they would be reimbursed. Similar delays occurred with the $4-per-hour pandemic pay top-up for front-line health-care workers. While $745 million was promised to health workers in April, only $158 million of that had flowed by June (another $358 million was doled out during the latter half of the year).
    • “The Ministry [of Health] did not track how many eligible front-line workers received pandemic pay from employers or when these front-line workers were paid,” per Lysyk’s probe. Instead, the task of ensuring workers got the wages fell to hospitals, LTC and retirement homes (the latter two received separate funding allocations), who provided summaries to their corresponding ministries. But the province hasn’t followed up and has no mechanisms in place to track whether the cash actually ended up in workers’ bank accounts. For that, Lysyk’s audit found the pandemic pay program failed at cost-effectiveness, while also leaving thousands of key workers waiting months for their wage top-ups.
  • Ontario’s moratorium on bottled-water taking permits, which has been in place since 2016, officially expired on April 1st, 2021. The former Liberal rulers enacted the pause following a controversy over Nestlé’s purchase of a well in Wellington County that the Township of Centre Wellington had tried to buy for its own drinking water. Former Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said new rules, which were announced last December and came into effect on April 1st, 2021 would ensure municipalities support a water-taking project before it gets a permit. 
  • Beginning April 1st, Ontario’s Local Health Integration Networks started operating under a new business name: Home and Community Care Support Services. “Services will not be interrupted while home and community care transitions into Ontario Health Teams,” per the health ministry. The changes stem from the Connecting Care Act, the former Bill 175, which passed last summer.

Legislative and regulatory changes that came into force in early July:

  • Changes under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, which makes producers responsible for safely collecting and managing hazardous and special products like paints, solvents, pesticides, antifreeze, oil containers and pressurized containers.
  • Amendments under the Police Record Checks Reform Act, 2015, to replace temporary exemptions that expired on July 1, 2021. The amendments include additional provisions for administering police record checks.
  • Changes under the Anti-Racism Act, 2017, which requires the collection of information about the Indigenous identity, race, religion and ethnic origin of an individual who has been charged with an offence and appears in bail court. 

What didn’t happen in the Legislature?

  • No Provincial Diverse Vendor Strategy.
    • ONN has been advocating for the provincial government and broader public sector anchor institutions to engage in social value procurement by redirecting existing spending to purchase goods and services from Black-led, Indigenous-led, and social enterprises. This would channel existing spending into creating positive social and environmental outcomes for Ontario’s urban, rural, and northern communities.
    • On April 13, official opposition NDP critic for finance and treasury board Catherine Fife introduced Bill 275, Supply Chain Management Amendment Act,  which would require the development and implementation of a Provincial Diverse Vendor Strategy to diversify government procurement and ensure the province’s economic recovery from COVID-19 is equitable and inclusive. The bill got the stamp of approval from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce but failed to pass the Legislature.
  • No permanent paid sick days
    • The current paid sick days program is due to expire on September 25, 2021
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    • Bill 247, Paid Personal Emergency Leave Now Act, 2021, introduced by Liberal MPP Michael Coteau on February 17, 2021 was voted down. The bill would amend the Employment Standards Act to provide 10 permanent, employer-paid sick days.
    • Bill 239, Stay Home if You Are Sick Act was tabled by opposition MPP Peggy Sattler, which would legislate at least seven permanent paid sick days annually (and more during a public health emergency). The bill was voted down at second reading in March, 2021.
    • On April 21, NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s motion to implement paid sick days was again voted down by the Ford government.