On May 30th, 2017, the Province of Ontario passed Bill 68: “Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, 2017”. This title reflects exactly what the Bill does: it attempts to bring dusty municipal legislation into 2017. Through this Act, three key pieces of municipal legislation have been amended: the Municipal Act, the City of Toronto Act, and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
Some of the hot-topic issues that this Bill addresses are Climate change, parental leave, and the financial stability and accountability of municipalities. Many of these amendments are based on feedback received during Municipal Legislation Review consultations in 2015 from municipalities, the public and other organizations . These changes were made in an attempt to support the province’s municipalities and as part of Ontario’s plan to create jobs, grow our economy and help people in their everyday lives.
The province now recognizes municipalities as important players who can assist in combating climate change. This is clear as Bill 68 amends the City of Toronto Act and Municipal Act to allow municipalities to pass by-laws that address climate change under their powers to enact by-laws respecting the economic, social, and environmental well-being of the municipality. This includes by-laws related to green construction. Municipalities may also provide, arrange for, or participate in, energy conservation programs.
The amendments included in Bill 68 will also reduce barriers for those elected to municipal governments and school boards by allowing time off for pregnancy and parental leave. Under the past provisions of the Municipal Act, a council member’s seat would have been declared vacant if they did not attend council meetings for three consecutive months. Now, eligible council members who are new parents are not to be removed from office over a vacant seat until he or she is absent for longer than 20 consecutive weeks. Under this legislative reform, municipalities have also been granted the discretion to excuse absences beyond 20 weeks for any reason.
Importantly, it is now required that municipalities have policies which address parental leave so those on council and school boards are protected during an absence related to pregnancy, birth or the adoption of a child. Although many municipalities already have policies that address parental leave, those who do not have policies in place should ensure that they are meeting their obligations.
These amendments are made with the goal of helping municipalities better finance repairs and replacements of local infrastructure. Eligible municipalities will now have the option to invest funds that they do not immediately require according to the ‘prudent investor’ standard to ensure local governments are strong and financially stable. This means that municipalities may make investments as long as they are using the care, skill, diligence and judgment that a sensible investor would exercise. Previously, a Municipality could only invest in prescribed securities. Additionally, the time that a Municipality must wait before initiating the sale of a property for tax arrears has been reduced from three years to two years.
Ontario has included amendments in Bill 68 to make the rules that regulate municipalities more clear, effective and responsive to local needs. One of the ways this will be accomplished is by requiring municipalities to establish codes of conduct for members of municipal council and certain local boards. The purpose of this is to enhance government accountability and integrity across the province.
Integrity is further enhanced by amendments that ensure that the public and municipal councillors have access to integrity commissioners with a broadened role related to conflicts of interest and municipal codes of conduct. These commissioners will bring added value, as they will be given the ability to educate the public, the municipality, some local boards, and members of council. Although hiring an integrity commissioner may appear to be an added burden, municipalities have the option to hire an integrity commissioner with multiple municipalities to share, or may hire one on their own when needed or on a full time basis.
If you have questions about these legislative changes or your obligations under them, contact our municipal team.
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