New law on docks, boathouses, and more

Published: July 6, 2020

boathouse Photo by LesPalenik/Shutterstock

Ontario’s Better for People, Smarter for Business Act 2019 (previously Bill 132) passed into law in December. A sprawling, 90-page omnibus bill, it reduced red tape around a slew of regulations, including allowing landowners to build docks and one-storey boathouses on Crown land (i.e., the lakebed) without a permit.

Terry Rees, the executive director of the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations, says this rule has technically been in place for the last 20 years under the Crown Land Use Policy. “The direction given in that policy was if it’s just a dock, we don’t need a permit,” he says, “because it’s modest.” Landowners could “construct or place structures that are in physical contact with 15 square meters or less of the shore lands fronting [their] property (e.g. docks, single-storey boathouses).” Bill 132 changed this guideline into law, providing “additional legislative clarity and certainty to these waterfront landowners,” according to Ian Allen, the director of communications for the Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction.

12 extreme docks and boathouses

While this particular amendment may be great news for cottagers, the bill also made sweeping changes to a number of other regulations affecting various industries, including 14 environmental laws, such as: looser restrictions on the use of pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, which are toxic to honey bees and other pollinators; logging companies no longer have to give the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry their work plans, which previously informed the ministry as to what kind of impact was being made on forests and at-risk species; and municipalities no longer have the authority to prevent aggregate operations from drilling below the water table, potentially contaminating groundwater supplies (often used for drinking water).

“It read like an industry wish list,” says Kelsey Scarfone, the water program manager for the advocacy group Environmental Defence, “granting wishes to different industries on what red tape they wanted reduced, no matter the consequences to the environment.”

Bill 132 had many detractors, including the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Georgian Bay Association, but its amendments were difficult to dispute because of the bill’s sprawling nature and how it was rushed through the legislative assembly. “With the sheer number of changes that are made within that law,” Scarfone says, “each one can take a lot of time to research from a legal standpoint.”

This is the third omnibus bill pushed through by the current Ontario government. Previous bills weakened laws around climate policy and the Endangered Species Act. Says Scarfone: “I can almost guarantee this will not be the last omnibus bill that has effects on the environment.”

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