Municipal Property Assessment Corporation
The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) is a not-for-profit corporation whose members include Ontario’s 444 municipalities. Its role is to manage a uniform property assessment service across Ontario. It is also responsible for preparing preliminary voters lists for municipal and school board elections, and for counting the population of every municipality in Ontario.
History of the commitment to provide service in French
Property assessment used to fall under the Ministry of Finance of Ontario. In 1998, the government transferred that responsibility to the Ontario Property Assessment Corporation, which became the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation in 2001. The Commissioner’s Office has received confirmation of the contents of a provision requiring the new entity to maintain property assessment services in French at a level at least equal to what was provided in the past.
The Ministry recently confirmed its commitment to maintaining the established level of service, which the Commissioner’s Office applauds. In fact, the Office signed a memorandum of understanding with the MPAC to improve the quality of services provided in French.
Property tax assignment and other challenges
When someone buys a house, the MPAC sends him/her the property assessment along with a form asking where he/she wants to direct education taxes. However, some citizens reported their dissatisfaction with the current process to the Commissioner’s Office. Under the Assessment Act, if no preference is stated, the process favours the English-language public school system “by default”, to the detriment of the other three systems: the English-language Catholic school boards, the French-language public school boards and the French-language Catholic school boards. As a result, complainants pointed out, the other three school systems were clearly disadvantaged.
Other challenges were reported, such as the fact that the data collected by the MPAC are incomplete, which affects the identification of demographic trends used in planning school resources, and the determination of the number of trustees on the French-language school boards.
Moreover, the data collected by the MPAC are used to prepare the list of potential Francophone jurors, as required by the Juries Act. When a sheriff is looking for jurors, particularly Francophone jurors for bilingual or French-only trials, he or she consults this list of taxpayers and residential property owners. However, if education taxes are directed by default to the English-language boards, the potential bank of Francophone jurors is not representative of the actual French-speaking population, which has repercussions for access to justice in French.
Education tax assignment by apartment building owners is another obstacle to justice in French. Apartment building owners can complete the form on behalf of all their tenants, regardless of their language, and elect to pay their education taxes to the English-language boards. At the same time, French-speaking tenants are eliminated and excluded from a list of potential jurors.
The Commissioner’s Office was informed of these situations, which were detailed in particular in the Commissioner’s 2008-2009 annual report. This is a complex systemic issue that the Commissioner is monitoring very closely in order to find a positive solution to these problems, which involve a number of laws and regulations.
French-language school funding
Many people have complained that the MPAC is ignoring their desire to direct their property taxes to the French-language school boards, and they are concerned that this may jeopardize the boards’ financial integrity.
While it is important to remedy this problem, the Commissioner’s Office wishes to make it clear that this situation has no impact on French-language school funding. School board funding no longer depends directly on the number of taxpayers who channel their support to their board, but rather on a budgetary envelope from the province.
Unless the MPAC receives an application to direct support to another board, it automatically treats property owners as supporters of the English-language public school boards, in accordance with subsection 16(4) of the Assessment Act.
In addition, while any property owner has the right, in theory, to apply for diversion of his or her taxes to another board, the process and the procedure are far from simple because of the many steps prescribed in the Education Act.
Translation of Ontario Regulation 282/98
The Commissioner’s Office has received many reports that there is no French version of Ontario Regulation 282/98, which relates to the Assessment Act. As a result, errors in interpreting the terms in this regulation are inevitable.
This problem is not new to the Commissioner’s Office. The translation of regulations is a matter of concern to the Commissioner’s Office. In his second annual report in 2008-2009, the Commissioner was very vocal about the fact that many important regulations, particularly regarding health or safety, were not automatically translated when adopted. The Commissioner did not necessarily advocate that all regulations should be adopted in French or translated into French. He proposed the introduction of criteria to guide ministries in determining whether regulations should be made available in French, and he suggested a number of criteria.
The Ministry of the Attorney General took a step in the right direction by agreeing to play a leadership role, as specified in the French Language Services Act, in introducing criteria to help ministries decide whether their regulations should be translated into French. The Commissioner had recommended the development of such criteria so that the Francophone population would be able to take an active role in areas such as health, safety and community development.
The Ministry of the Attorney General informed the Commissioner’s Office that a number of regulations were being translated. While the proportion of bilingual regulations was less than 40% in 2011-2012, it was expected to increase to over half by the end of the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
The Commissioner’s Office is actively pursuing this issue to ensure that the executives of the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation remain fully aware of the importance of meeting the needs of Ontario’s Francophone population and take the necessary measures to prevent a recurrence of this type of problem. Despite this progress, however, improvements are still needed in the translation of regulations.
Memorandum of understanding with the Commissioner’s Office
In 2012, the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner signed a memorandum of understanding with the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). This agreement has two objectives: improve the availability of high-quality French-language services, and speed up the complaint resolution process.
The Commissioner’s Office is very happy with this collaborative approach to the handling of complaints about the MPAC and French-language services. Some citizens have expressed their dissatisfaction with the automatic assignment of education taxes to the English-language school boards and the impact that this might have on a broader scale on Ontario’s French-speaking communities.
As a result of this memorandum of understanding between the MPAC and the Commissioner’s Office, the Corporation has since made improvements in the form that it sends to property owners to make it easier for them to register their school support choice. It has also fulfilled its commitment to respond to complaints received by the Commissioner’s Office within five business days. The Commissioner is delighted that this agreement has led to greater cooperation between his team and the Corporation’s team to provide better support for the Francophone community and address the challenges affecting it.