A recycled title adorns a fresh package of Ontario government regulatory adjustments, framed as red tape reduction. Bill 213, the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2020, introduced in the provincial legislature last week, is an omnibus effort to amend more than two dozen statutes.
As with the identically dubbed 2019 iteration of the legislation, which received royal assent last December, it comes in tandem with announced plans to revise or repeal numerous regulations under these and various other Acts. This can be done simply on Ministers’ authority without need for approval in the legislative assembly.
“The pandemic reinforces the urgency of our work to modernize regulations, take processes online and tackle obstacles to growth and success,” maintains Prabmeet Sarkaria, Ontario’s Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction.
A few of the proposed statutory amendments — including allowance for changes to the governance proceedings of private corporations — are likely to have some, albeit limited bearing for the commercial real estate and/or development sectors. Hinted but yet-to-be-detailed updates to regulations appear to have a broader range of potential implications for developers, building owners/managers and their service providers, as well as municipalities and other public sector entities.
That includes promised steps to: ensure consumers’ access to energy-use data; update rules related to brownfield redevelopment; quash incompatible land uses near existing industrial sites and operations that produce noise and/or odours; reduce the requirements for traffic studies for proposed developments; and extend intervals for registering in-house security guards. There is also an emphasis on replacing paper-based administrative processes with online digital alternatives.
“By making it easier for people and businesses to interact with government, we are delivering on our commitment of building simpler, faster, better services in Ontario,” submits Peter Bethlenfalvy, president of the Ontario Treasury Board.
Proposed statutory amendments address corporate governance and forfeited property
A proposed amendment to the Business Corporations Act would remove restrictions on the composition of boards of directors, eliminating the current requirement that at least 25 per cent be residents of Canada. “Canadian director residency requirements discourage businesses from incorporating in Ontario in favour of other provinces. This change will allow Ontario to better compete both nationally and internationally as a home for business headquarters,” the government’s accompanying background document reasons.
Other proposed amendments would loosen requirements for when shareholders’ meetings must be called for private corporations. A separate review of the regulation of Ontario’s capital markets, including various board functions and practices for publicly traded companies, is also in progress.
Currently, the Business Corporations Act allows for shareholders to pass a written resolution in lieu of a meeting if they unanimously agree. The proposed amendments would lower that threshold to a simple majority of shareholders, and also open the ability for that majority to remove a director or auditor via written resolutions rather than through a meeting.
Proposed amendments to the Forfeited Corporate Property Act would give the Minister of Government and Consumer Affairs authority to dislodge invalid occupants from commercial premises or to transfer titles wholly to co-owners. As outlined in the amendments, the Minister would be able to enter into agreements for the disposition or management of forfeited properties, and could enforce the removal of any occupants and contents from a forfeited property, not just the forfeiter and his/her belongings. The amendments also clarify that vesting orders, which the courts can use to transfer ownership of land to another entity, will not be granted if the corporate property in question has been forfeited due to debt or other legal circumstances.
In its accompanying overview of proposed legislation, the government suggests this “would help get forfeited corporate properties back into productive use for the community more quickly and efficiently”.
The provincial government would also issue a blanket exemption from municipal development charges for all universities to which it provides operating funds via the proposed amendment to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act. Until now, under Ontario’s Development Charges Act, exemptions have been left to municipal discretion.
“The proposed changes would provide development charge exemptions for all publicly assisted universities to provide for the same treatment in regard to new developments,” the government backgrounder states.
New regulations promised to modify or clarify development requirements
As proposed, electrical and gas utilities would be required to make consumption data available via the Green Button Connect My Data and Download My Data standards so that customers with metered accounts can monitor their usage in real-time on their smartphones or other devices. The previous provincial government also tried to invoke this requirement through proposed amendments to its Green Energy Act, but the parliamentary session ended before the legislation could be enacted and the current government repealed the Green Energy Act in the fall of 2018. It now suggests the proposed mandate for utilities would both prompt energy and cost-saving behaviour and supply information that consumers are entitled to have.
“Research shows household energy efficiency savings from real-time data can be as high as 12 per cent,” the government’s backgrounder states. “A modern Ontario that works better for people, smarter for business includes ensuring that Ontarians, rather than just their utility, have access to their own energy-use data.”
Of interest to developers, the same document spells out the government’s agenda and presumed pending new regulations related to:
- modifying excess soil storage requirements and creating standard rules for processing excess soil for resale as a garden product;
- reviewing processes and providing new and updated guidance to better clarify rules for property owners and municipalities that want to redevelop and revitalize historically contaminated lands; and
- updating its land use compatibility planning guidelines to help municipalities prevent new residences or other incompatible land uses from being approved near sites and industries that may create noise or odour impacts.
Building owners/managers or condominium corporations with in-house security staff are also promised a nominal cost saving and offloading of administrative burden when the requirement to re-register annually with Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General is stretched to a three-year interval. “The registered employer’s annual cost of registration will effectively be reduced from $80 to $27,” the government’s backgrounder confirms.