In Ontario, 2016 will bring a host of changes to electricity rates, road safety rules and other areas of government oversight. The Post’s Ashley Csanady rounds up 11 key changes you need to know before you ring in the new year.
MPP expenses enter the digital age
For years Queen’s Park watchers have had to page through paper summaries to find out what MPPs spend on travel, accommodation and to run their office. But starting next year, thanks to new accountability legislation, those expenses will be posted online. The new rules also require cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants, opposition leaders and their respective offices and staff to post all expenses online.
Changes to electricity rates
The end of the debt retirement charge — a fee tacked onto all hydro bills to pay off stranded debt, largely the result of nuclear builds and refurbishment — will finally end, years after that was first promised.
That will save the average household $67.20 a year. However, those savings will be gobbled up by the end the of the Clean Energy Benefit, a credit on electricity bills to offset the costs of the government’s green energy policies. The end of that program will add about $180 a year to the average bill. A new fee of about $1 a month will also fund a program to help low-income Ontarians pay their hydro bills. So consumers can expect to pay about $10 more a month for their power — and that’s on top of any rate increases by their local distribution company.
No more flavoured tobacco or e-cigarettes for kids
All flavoured tobacco will be banned in Ontario as of Jan. 1, with the exception of menthols. The government has until 2018 to ban the minty smokes, but could act sooner.
The same legislation will also provide the first regulation for e-cigarettes, popular with those who’d rather inhale water-based vapour than smoke. Sales to minors will now be banned.
And people who do still smoke will find even fewer places to do it: the practice will be banned on certain government properties entirely as well as from hospital grounds and psychiatric facilities.
A break for winter tires
Insurers will now be required to offer consumers who use winter tires a break on their auto coverage.
Driverless cars on our roads
As of Jan. 1, Ontario will become the first province to allow companies to test driverless cars on its roads. A licensed driver will still need to be behind the wheel, but it follows a move in several U.S. jurisdictions to allow companies to test their work in real life. And, because we’re the first in the true north, valuable data about how the artificial intelligence reacts to snow-covered roads could help develop safe self-driving cars for winters to come.
Ombudsman gets more teeth
While Ontario still lacks a permanent ombudsman, the office’s powers continue to increase. The watchdog will now be able to take complaints about universities and municipalities, with some exceptions. In September, the office gained oversight of school boards.
A little help for our marine mammal friends
After media reports prompted questions about the care for animals at Marineland, rules governing the care of marine mammals kick in with the new year. The regulations will be phased in and set standards for record-keeping, nutrition, light exposure, water quality, veterinary care and other protections.
A more accessible Ontario
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act sets standards to address both physical and attitudinal barriers the disabled face in Ontario. The sweeping legislation has been phased in over many years, but 2016 marks a number of key requirements: all public sector websites must meet certain accessibility standards, large employers must have training and employment standards in place, and all new and revamped public spaces must now be accessible.
A number of fees across government will increase slightly, including those to license trailers, buy commercial fishing licenses, validate farm vehicles or make certain changes under the building code. A new $50 fee will be imposed on drivers who accrue so many demerit points they need to attend an interview to renew their licence.
Out-of-province offenders will have to pay out
In the past, cities who want to collect outstanding tickets from out-of-province drivers hit a wall. Now they will be able to send those outstanding bills to other provinces.
Making roads safer for pedestrians
A host of new rules aims to reduce the number of people hit by cars each year. Driver will now have to wait until pedestrians have crossed the road before going through crosswalks or school crossing. The changes also bar pedestrians from stepping “into the path of a vehicle or street car that is so close the driver cannot stop.” And it will allow cities and the province to try out new pedestrian safety features, like new styles of crosswalks.
New rules for maple
After a year in which Canada’s maple cartel was the subject of much consternation and debate, Ontario is tweaking its regulations to bring them in line with federal guidelines. That means grading and colour classifications will match federal rules, so if you’re a fan of amber syrup over light, you know your bottle will be up to snuff.