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COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act and the Environment

Published on
July 8, 2020

Earlier today, the Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing introduced Bill 197, the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020. According to the government’s news release, the purpose of the legislation is to help launch Ontario’s economic recovery efforts by laying the foundation to restart jobs and development, strengthen communities, and create opportunities for people in every region of the province.

This omnibus legislation makes amendments to several existing laws impacting a broad array of sectors. Our team wanted to draw specific attention to several environment-related amendment proposals impacting the Building Code Act, the Drainage Act, and the Environmental Assessment Act. In addition to these proposed amendments, the government announcement included other environmental policy commitments that align with the objectives of these proposals but are not a part of this amendment package.

Below is a summary of the government’s objectives as it pertains to these proposals and the proposed amendments.

Schedule 1: Building Code Act

  • The proposed changes will streamline the Building Code development process, align it with National Construction Codes, and enable Ontario to respond faster to construction sector needs.
  • The Building Code Act would be amended to change regulation-making authority from the Lieutenant Governor in Council to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
  • Alignment with National Construction Codes would be made possible through an amendment that allows the Minister to make regulations by adopting by reference, in whole or in part, with such changes as the Minister considers necessary, of documents such as the National Building Code of Canada and the National Plumbing Code of Canada, among others.

Schedule 4: Drainage Act

  • The province will work with the farm and food sector to streamline administrative processes under this Act to encourage innovation in drainage practices, help to prevent flooding, and reduce costs for farmers, rural landowners, and municipalities.
  • The proposed amendments relate to the service of documents and to the processes involved in amending engineers’ reports, approving improvement projects, and requesting environmental appraisals.

Schedule 6: Environmental Assessment Act

  • The proposed amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act would come into force in three phases in order to transition gradually to a more modern approach. The amendments are complex and make some significant changes to process.
  • Proposed changes seek to reduce approval timelines by half from 6 to 3 years for the largest projects and match the level of assessment with the level of environmental impact so critical infrastructure projects can get off the ground without undue delay.
  • Proposed changes would give local municipalities more say in landfill approvals by requiring new, large landfill applicants to ensure there is local support from host municipalities, and certain neighbouring adjacent municipalities within 3.5km that meet certain criteria as part of the approvals process.

Reducing Delays for Environmental Infrastructure Projects

  • This proposal is not captured in Bill 197 but was included in the government’s backgrounder document that accompanied the news release announcing the introduction of the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act.
  • Proposed improvements to the Environmental Compliance Approval process for wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. The new process would provide a single, consolidated approval process for low-impact municipal sewage collection and stormwater management projects. Simple, routine changes by municipalities could be pre-authorized to begin construction without needing separate approvals for each project.

Focusing on the Environment and Health

  • This proposal is not captured in Bill 197 but was included in the government’s backgrounder document that accompanied the news release announcing the introduction of the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act.
  • Review the province’s compliance policy regarding noise and odour to ensure it can quickly and effectively address incidents with known or potential environmental and/or health impacts. The intent is to allow government to focus resources on incidents and complaints that pose a higher risk to the environment and/or health.

Bill 197 will proceed through the regular legislative process, but concurrently those proposed changes that could have an impact on the environment are also being posted to the Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO) for review and comment. Submissions can be prepared and sent through this portal as well, with a deadline of August 22, 2020.

Our team will be reading through this document carefully – please let us know if you have any questions or if we can help.

Robyn Gray, Vice President - rgray@sussex-strategy.com

Christina Marciano, Senior Associate - cmarciano@sussex-strategy.com

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