Canada rang in the new year with a flurry of new legislation, with both federal and provincial governments tackling thorny issues such as divorce, Indigenous child welfare and in some areas a ban on plastic bags.
On the tax front, the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has enacted laws that allow low-income earners to get a break as the amount Canadians can earn without paying tax now increases to $13,229. That ceiling will gradually move upward over four years to a maximum of $15,000.
But tax expert Brad Read of Read’s Accounting said the change is not significant.
“I don’t really think that a tax savings of $2.70 a week will make much difference in most peoples’ financial situation,” he said in response to a question from Anadolu Agency.
“And with the carbon tax in effect, that minimal increase won’t even begin to offset that new levy.”
The carbon tax is in effect a tax on pollution and has proved controversial with some provinces trying to opt out. Under the law, the federal government taxes a set amount per ton of carbon produced by a province, then applies the amount in a tax on electricity, natural gas or oil consumption.
The federal government does allow carbon tax rebates on income tax forms, but critics say it is not revenue neutral and individuals must pay more than they get back.
There were a whole host of other changes for the new year.
Divorce changes to simplify system
Trudeau’s government also made changes to the Divorce Act to make the justice system more user friendly – “more accessible and affordable.”
A retired lawyer who predominantly handled divorce cases in Ontario said the change is long overdue but does not go far enough. One of the problems the new law does not address is charges for lawyer fees.
“Access to justice has always been difficult in Canada for a multiple of reasons,” he said on condition that his name not be used.
“This legislation is not likely to correct that problem” because funding for legal aid for the poor has been reduced and there is an “ever-diminishing number of lawyers who have a realistic opinion of the true value of their services.”
In Ontario, the government will ban advertising of vaping products at convenience stores and gas stations in response to health concerns, a move the health unit applauds.
Canada overhauls Indigenous child welfare
The federal government plans an overhaul of the Indigenous child welfare system, with critics charging the current law is discriminatory.
Bill C-92 as it is known will “affirm First Nations jurisdiction over child welfare, and that’s what we need to move forward in a good way,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
Ban on plastic bags
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) will follow the lead of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in banning plastic bags later this year. Shoppers will need to bring reusable bags to supermarkets and other stores.
“Millions of plastic retail and grocery bags will be removed from circulation in Nova Scotia within a year and will help reduce impacts on the environment and reduce the amount of plastic waste destined for landfills,” said Tony Walker, assistant professor of the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.
However, he said the switch to paper bags or those made of other materials has drawbacks.
“Producing and transporting paper bags produces more carbon dioxide than plastic bags,” Walker said in reply to a query from Anadolu Agency.
“Consumers are encouraged to use natural reusable bags rather than synthetic ones and to use them hundreds or even thousands of times to offset the negative environmental impacts of using single-use plastic bags.”
The province of Saskatchewan has signalled a war on distracted driving. Beginning Feb. 1, the fine will rise to $580 from the current $280 for first-time offenders. A second infraction will cost $1,400 and a seven-day impoundment of the vehicle. A third offence in the same year will carry a $2,100 penalty.
But the province of Ontario has also enacted a change that some will welcome and others think is barking up the wrong tree – dogs will be allowed on restaurant patios, provided that only prepackaged snacks such as pretzels, peanuts and potato chips along with beer are on the menu.
A spokesperson for the Hastings Prince Edward Health Unit which among other things enforces sanitary rules regarding restaurants, told Anadolu Agency that the organization has no issue with mixing dogs and food, provided that certain guidelines are followed.
Restaurants should “put measures in place to reduce potential transmission of disease from dogs, such as not allowing staff to pet dogs, not allowing dogs on tables and chairs, and the creation of a protocol to ensure a clean and sanitary eating area,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Piotr Oglaza.
Those are just a sampling of the new rules to greet Canadians in 2020.
By Barry Ellsworth in Trenton, Canada