Proposal to amend the Public Lands Act to support red tape reduction

Regulation Number(s):
Instrument Type:
Bill or Act:
Public Lands Act
Summary of Decision:
Amendments to the Public Lands Act proposed by the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (NDMNRF) have been passed with the Supporting People and Businesses Act 2021.

The amendments will: improve customer service and government efficiency, reduce unnecessary burdens, and, provide a greater ability to make public lands available for economic development opportunities, particularly in the North.

Analysis of regulatory impact:

There are no new costs or burdens to business as a result of the amendments to the Public Lands Act.

Three substantive comments were received. One comment expressed concerns about potential dispositions of public land to municipalities on the shore lands of water bodies and taking up of land that is not expressly for the benefit Indigenous people.

One comment indicated support for the proposal to bar the adverse possession of public lands; and, one comment expressed concerns about changes relating to decision making powers.

NDMNRF recognizes the concerns shared; however, these factors would be mitigated by the fact that existing review processes prior to issuing approvals would remain unchanged. The Crown would be required to undertake any applicable environmental screening and assessment as well as fulfill its duty to consult with Indigenous communities prior to making public land disposition decisions or transfers.

Most of the amendments have come into effect. The amendment to repeal the authority for the Lieutenant Governor in Council to make regulations prescribing fees will come into effect on a day to be named by proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor.

There are no new administrative costs to regulated entities as a result of the amendments to the Public Lands Act.
Analysis of Regulatory Impact:
The proposed amendments to the Public Lands Act would have no direct impacts or new costs to businesses.

Positive impacts of the proposed amendments include:

• Clarifying that the Minister has authority to manage fees under the Public Lands Act. This proposal would not result in new fees or changes to any existing fees currently charged.

• Providing the Minister authority to make certain public land related decisions that are currently made by the Lieutenant Governor in Council (LGIC) would increase the speed of decision-making for certain approvals, increase customer service, and improve government efficiency.

• Eliminating the acquisition of public land by means of adverse possession, also known as squatting, would help to preserve public lands for the highest uses for the benefit of all Ontarians (including economic development and environmental protection), achieving fair market value for lands through sale, lease, or use, and the efficient settlement of Indigenous land claims.

• Allowing dispositions or transfers of land bordering water bodies where less than 25 per cent of frontage would remain public lands would reduce the risk of a challenge. For example, in cases where the land is being used to support initiatives in the interest of Indigenous communities (i.e., land claims) or to support initiatives of other governments or their agencies (e.g., infrastructure development, waterfront improvements, etc.). Businesses may benefit indirectly from economic development initiatives led by communities.

If approved, the Ministry would:
• seek approval to make minor and consequential amendments to O. Reg 326/94 (Crown land camping permit) and O. Reg 975 (Work Permits) to ensure they align with the changes made to the legislation. There will be no further public consultation opportunity on the changes to O. Reg 326/94 or O. Reg 975.

• Update its policies to reflect and support the implementation of the amendments to the Public Lands Act.
Further Information:
Proposal Number:
Posting Date:
October 7, 2021
Summary of Proposal:
The Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry is proposing the following changes to the Public Lands Act:

1. Minister's Authority
Most public lands related decisions rest with the Minister of NDMNRF while some are made by the Lieutenant Governor in Council through an Order in Council, which is a time-consuming process that results in delays for clients. The proposal would provide the following authorities to the Minister:
i. Setting apart areas of public lands for any purpose that will benefit research in and the
management, use and administration of public lands and forests.
ii. Approving the disposal of public land to Ministry officers or employees (while meeting
obligations set out in Ontario Regulation 381/07 regarding conflict of interest rules for
servants under the Public Service of Ontario Act).
iii. Releasing lands from a habendum restriction in letters patent, (i.e., removing a
requirement that the land be used for a specific purpose).
iv. Releasing a condition that requires public lands transferred to the federal government, be
returned to Ontario if the federal government is no longer using the land.
v. Releasing restrictions in letters patents (a requirement that the government approve
to the sale of the land).

2. Public Reserves
Section 3 of the PLA restricts transfer or disposition of lands bordering water bodies where less than 25 per cent of the lands frontage would remain public lands. Proposed amendments ensure the Minister can transfer public lands to other governments, agencies, or Indigenous communities for purposes such as settlement of land claims and infrastructure, economic development. The proposal would not change the Ministry's requirement to consider potential environmental impacts of dispositions and to fulfill the Crown's Duty to Consult with Aboriginal communities.

3. Adverse Possession
Currently individuals may acquire possessory title to claim public lands after 60 years of adverse possession (squatting). This prevents the Province from preserving public lands for uses including economic development and environmental protection, receiving fair value for lands through sale or lease, and the efficient settlement of Indigenous land claims.
Proposed changes to the PLA would prevent any person from acquiring an interest in public lands through use, possession, or occupation of the lands.

The ministry would continue to process quit claim (i.e., squatting claim) letters patent applications for persons who meet the requirements (60+ years of adverse possession) prior to the changes coming into effect (i.e. there is no deadline to apply in these circumstances). The proposed changes would also provide the Minister with the authority to correct registrations or deposits against public lands under the Registry Act.

4. Fees
The proposed changes would clarify that the Minister has explicit authority to set, charge, waive, change, or refund fees for services, permissions or decisions related to the management, use or disposition of public lands. No new fees or changes to existing fees are being proposed.
If the proposed changes are made, the Ministry would seek approval to make minor amendments to Ontario Regulation 326/94 (Crown land camping permit) and Ontario Regulation 975 (Work Permits) to remove provisions that set fees by regulation to ensure they align with the changes to the PLA.
Contact Address:
Donna Lynn Clarke
Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry
300 Water Street, 5th Floor, South Tower
Peterborough ON K9J 3C7
Royal Assent Date:
December 2, 2021