From the start of COVID-19, spring and summer 2020 was a nonstop policy announcement cycle at the Ontario legislature. Here’s a roundup of what nonprofits need to know, including important updates on the Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, and a great example of nonprofit advocacy in action!
Bill 197: COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020
Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020, is an omnibus bill presented to the Ontario legislature on July 8, with 20 schedules affecting 44 laws. It received Royal Assent on July 21, 2020. The Ontario government aims to kickstart the province’s economy amidst the pandemic with this bill by addressing issues in a wide-range of fields, from the development industry to environmental regulations.
How does this bill affect the nonprofit sector?
Schedule 1 amends the Building Code Act, 1992 by granting the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing the authority to set regulatory decisions for the construction and demolitions of sites.
Schedule 3 amends the Development Charges Act, 1997, meaning more services will be allowed to impose development charges. Added services include libraries, long-term care, child care, housing services, and parks and recreation (does not include land acquired for park usage). Previous changes to this were proposed under Bill 108, but these changes had not been enacted.
Schedule 6 amends the Environmental Assessment Act to streamline environmental assessments for smaller scale municipal projects allowing them to bypass environmental assessments for project approvals. The timelines of environmental assessments for larger projects will also be reduced. Indigenous communities will still maintain their right to consultations.
- The Green Party has been critical of this bill and MPP Mike Schreiner has questioned the motives behind the government having full powers to decide which projects require environmental assessments.
- Environmental groups including the Canadian Environmental Law Association, along with the Environment Critic for the NDP, have raised concerns that these changes are illegal as they do not follow the Environmental Bill of Rights.
- The Auditor General has confirmed that the changes don’t comply with legislation. The Environmental Bill of Rights requires public notice and consultations for development projects, which are missing in these new changes.
- Currently, Ecojustice, Greenpeace Canada and Wilderness Committee are suing the provincial government for not committing to consult with communities over development projects.
Schedule 13 outlines changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act where the provincial government is now able to make changes to health and safety regulatory standards without introducing regulatory amendments.
- The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) notes that the bill does not provide details to the government’s decision-making process and timeframe and that there is no commitment to engaging with stakeholders and the public throughout the process.
Schedule 17 amends the Planning Act, so municipalities will no longer be able to apply community benefits charges on development projects with fewer than five stories at or above ground or fewer than 10 residential units.
Bill 195: Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020
Bill 195 creates the new “Reopening Ontario” Act, which continues pandemic-related orders made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act even after the State of Emergency was declared over. Emergency orders can be renewed, amended, or revoked every 30 days by a Cabinet minister for up to a year. The Legislature may extend orders for a second year. The Select Committee on Emergency Management Oversight was created to scrutinize ongoing extensions of emergency orders and hear reports from the Premier. The MPP for Cambridge, Belinda Karahalios, was expelled from the Progressive Conservative caucus for voting against the bill.
How does this bill affect the nonprofit sector?
- Orders in force (and revoked) can be seen on the province’s Emergency Information page.
- Civil liberties groups have expressed concerns about the extension of extraordinary powers beyond the state of emergency, while labour groups have expressed concern about the provisions allowed to continue that override collective agreements in health and social service settings.
Other activities related to nonprofits
Bill 192, Protecting Small Business Act, was introduced on June 17 and received Royal Assent the next day – possibly setting a new record for fastest assent. Bill 192 amends the Commercial Tenancies Act to prevent certain evictions.
Bill 184, Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, received Royal Assent in July after four months of consideration. Bill 184 amends the Housing Services Act and the Residential Tenancies Act, among other pieces of legislation. The bill aims to modernize the community housing sector, to prevent unlawful residential evictions and ensure compensation when these evictions occur, and to enable landlords to implement rent increases for maintenance upgrades.
- Tenant advocacy groups and faith groups are concerned the bill will actually accelerate evictions in the private rental market.
- Nonprofit housing providers note that consultations on a modernized Community Housing framework are ongoing and that details are still to come in regulations. Read the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association’s analysis of the bill and the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada’s submission.
Bill 175, Connecting People to Home and Community Care Act, received Royal Assent in July. According to the Ontario Community Support Association (OCSA), there is a need for ongoing consultation with nonprofit home care and community support service providers to ensure the development of appropriate regulations. Among other recommendations, OCSA had asked for “procurement guidelines for contracting services which include a preference for not-for-profit providers with a history of high-quality service,” details of which will be determined through regulation and policy. TVOntario has also published an analysis of the risk of privatization under Bill 175.
Bill 171, the Building Transit Faster Act, received Royal Assent in July. The bill seeks to remove barriers to accelerating construction on Toronto transit projects.
Bill 161, Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, received Royal Assent in July, seven months after its initial introduction. The bill modernizes almost 20 statutes related to the justice system.
- There were concerns in the spring when the bill was at the hearings stage that Bill 161 would create barriers to class action lawsuits including in the for-profit long-term care sector; multiple lawsuits, however, have since been launched.
- There was also a successful advocacy campaign by justice advocates and community legal clinics to oppose the removal of two key aspects of Legal Aid Ontario’s mandate: to “promote access to justice” and “be responsive to the needs of low-income individuals and disadvantaged communities.” With an amendment passed at Third Reading, Bill 161 is a great example of nonprofit advocacy in action!
Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, is now in force – meaning new fines for animal welfare activists and public interest journalists investigating and documenting suspected animal abuse in the food and farming industry.
In mid-June, the Ontario government reinstated reporting requirements under the Environmental Bill of Rights after suspending them in April.
There was a debate in the Legislature on Motion no. 89 to ensure the Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act does not expire before proclamation later this year. The motion’s debate led to some detailed and passionate testimony (see here and here) on the importance of the nonprofit sector, the impact of the pandemic on local organizations, and the need for stabilization funding and insurance relief. ONN is grateful to all of the MPPs who stood to share stories of their local nonprofits.
What didn’t happen in the Legislature?
- No COVID stabilization fund for nonprofits affected by the pandemic. ONN is grateful to the Ontario NDP, the Ontario Liberal Party, and the Green Party of Ontario for supporting our call for a sector fund.
- No paid sick days (though recent changes to the federal Employment Insurance program go part way to filling the gap – for those who qualify).
- No social enterprise strategy to help nonprofits whose earned income has been hard-hit by the pandemic closures.
- No Good Samaritan liability protection for nonprofits that follow all public health guidance but are still facing COVID-related insurance exclusions, rate hikes, and denial of coverage.
ONN is tracking bills through the Legislature during the Fall 2020 session, including Bill 215 (a red tape reduction bill), Bill 207 (which amends family law), and Bill 204 (which affects commercial and residential tenants). We’re combing through the final summer report of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs on the impact of COVID on small and medium enterprises, including nonprofits. We’re expecting a fall budget/economic update bill, due by November 15. And finally, we’re expecting the Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act to be proclaimed by year’s end. Stay tuned for reports on these bills and more in the next update on what happened in the Legislature!