Regulators’ Code of Practice: Working together to protect the public interest in Ontario
Learn what the expectations are for regulators, how they carry out their duties and how these principles apply to all ministries responsible for front-line regulatory delivery.
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Ontario is committed to protecting the things that matter most to Ontarians – the health, safety, and well-being of our people, environment and economy. To do this means working with each other, including those we regulate, and the public.
While Ontario’s regulatory mandate is diverse, we are committed to high standards of regulatory service in the public interest. This Regulators’ Code of Practice (the Code) provides a set of principles that establish expectations for carrying out our duties. With some exceptions, it applies to all Ontario Government ministries with responsibility for front-line regulatory delivery
- developing or updating our operational policies, processes and standards
- training our front-line staff
By following these principles, we demonstrate our commitment to professional service and to regulatory delivery excellence.
For those we regulate, the Code outlines our commitment to be clear about how we work with you. You will know what to expect of us and what we will expect of you. This allows you to focus on your business activities, while complying with Ontario’s laws and rules.
The Code promotes fair treatment and respect while you are being inspected, audited, investigated or otherwise regulated. In return, we ask you to be co-operative and to provide us with complete information in your dealings with us. This fair and consistent approach is pivotal to creating a level regulatory playing field for businesses in Ontario.
We all have a role to play in protecting the things that matter to Ontarians. By working together, we can all be more effective and efficient in achieving positive outcomes for Ontario’s people, environment and economy.
We support compliant businesses by streamlining compliance activities and adopting a risk-based approach to inspections to prioritize the most important regulatory issues. Our commitment to consistency, transparency and evidence-based decision-making will help businesses meet their regulatory requirements and allow them to focus on creating jobs, scaling up and staying competitive.
Businesses are key to the province’s economic growth. Ontario’s regulatory professionals and compliance staff (including inspectors and auditors, among others) are critical in supporting businesses to comply with regulatory requirements. Smarter regulatory practices that effectively balance consistency, discretion, and support information sharing across regulatory bodies are key to our collective success. Ministries that conduct regulatory oversight and associated functions relating to entities that are not businesses, or whose primary purpose is to serve vulnerable members of the public, must afford due consideration and take appropriate actions to ensure the achievement of specific policy objectives, while protecting the public interest. For example, the regulatory activities carried out by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services must always focus on and prioritize the best interests, protection, safety and well-being of vulnerable children, young persons and adults receiving services funded and/or licensed by the ministry.
Our commitment to professional service
Perform our regulatory activities in a professional manner to help businesses and other regulated entities to comply and succeed
In all interactions, we perform our activities in a professional manner, in accordance with the Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006 and Ontario’s public service values. Our front-line staff are trained on the following elements of professionalism:
Honesty and integrity
We conduct our duties in a way that inspires confidence and respect for our position of public trust. We do not engage in activities that are, or could appear to be, incompatible with our responsibilities and duties, or call into question our objectivity, integrity and impartiality.
We treat everyone with respect and are courteous and professional at all times, and in all situations. We carry out our duties with a view to promoting diversity and inclusion, in alignment with the OPS’ core values.
We treat everyone impartially and perform our duties objectively. We make decisions based on relevant legislation, the common law, standards, practices, policies and procedures.
We treat all information obtained by any means in confidence unless performance of our duties or legal provisions require otherwise. We collect, use, and share or retain all internal and external information in compliance with applicable legislation, regulations, legal privileges, policies and procedures.
We enhance and improve our level of knowledge and capabilities through a commitment to continuous learning and are competent when executing our responsibilities.
We conduct and conclude our activities in a timely fashion. We adhere to legislative requirements, policies and procedures regarding timelines and meet all internal and external time commitments.
We aim to provide equitable treatment of all persons in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code and promote a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person we encounter. We are committed to working safely in accordance with Occupational Health and Safety Act, RSO 1990. We also work to ensure that Ontario’s business climate is robust, and we conduct our duties in a way that facilitates compliance and success of businesses operating in the province.
Focus on service by providing clear information and assistance to help businesses to comply
Upholding the public trust is important for the work we do. We achieve this by being consistent and clear about our regulatory approaches, including the processes we follow and how feedback can be provided on our service or decisions. Maintaining consistency in our approach provides businesses and other regulated entities with a stable, outcomes-focused, and where appropriate, flexible regulatory environment.
To provide effective and professional service, our front-line staff are trained on the following practices and principles:
- introduce ourselves and our ministry/organization
- provide general information regarding the inspection, audit or enforcement process to be followed
- identify the statutory authority for our inspection, audit, investigation, or enforcement action
- identify any formal complaint mechanisms and appeal procedures, as applicable
- provide contact information for further information or feedback
We aim to provide accessible, responsive, reliable, fair and accountable service, in keeping with the OPS Service Directive. We provide information in a manner that meets the needs of each person we encounter, for example, proactive offer of services in French (French Language Services Act, RSO 1990); use of alternative formats (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005).
Share information, coordinate activities and collaborate to promote greater consistency and transparency
Collaborating with other regulators promotes consistency in our approaches to better protect the public interest. Coordinating our efforts and sharing information also reduce burdens on those we regulate, including minimizing duplication. To help Ontario businesses compete locally and globally by improving inspections and streamlining compliance activities, we:
- actively identify opportunities to coordinate compliance activities with other regulators, where there are common interests and objectives, in order to:
- ensure regulatory effectiveness
- reduce undue burden on businesses
- maintain the highest standards of public health, safety and environmental protections
- obtain required information, where possible, through existing sources or other authorized methods including information-sharing agreements (for example, Regulatory Modernization Act, 2007)
- share data and information, where possible, unless prohibited under the existing legislative and policy framework in Ontario, and continue to seek opportunities for greater data and information sharing
- provide common foundational training and knowledge-sharing opportunities for front-line staff and managers to promote greater consistency in how we work
Our commitment to excellence in regulatory delivery
Focus on outcomes to support business compliance
We aim to achieve the intended outcomes of our regulations without placing unnecessary burden on those we regulate. This helps create a level playing field within the regulated community. We focus on protecting the public interest, supporting economic growth in Ontario and:
- clearly communicate the government’s desired outcomes to those we regulate to build a common understanding of what we expect and why it is important
- focus on regulatory intent and recognize circumstances where it may be appropriate and legally permissible to consider acceptable alternatives to achieve the outcome through innovative or less onerous means
- develop plans to recognize businesses that demonstrate excellent compliance, in accordance with the Modernizing Ontario for People and Businesses Act, 2020
- ensure front-line staff and managers are trained on the government’s regulatory modernization principles, and this Code, so that all staff have the same information on the government’s approach to working with those we regulate
This approach can provide greater certainty to the regulated community which will improve confidence in our actions and, combined with risk-based targeting, can assist in achieving compliance with the least burden. Having greater impact with less burden by focusing on outcomes is how we help responsible businesses to comply and grow.
Target our efforts based on risk and evidence, including data, to prioritize government activities to address regulatory issues
We target our efforts based on risk so that resources are focused on preventing and addressing the issues that matter most to Ontarians. To make it easier to do business in Ontario, we support those that act responsibly and have proven records of compliance, while protecting the public interest in the most efficient and effective way possible. To achieve this, we:
- are clear and transparent about our risk-based frameworks, criteria, strategies and plans
- prioritize work with respect to risks posed to individuals (for example, employees), the public, the environment and other data that can help enhance regulatory decision-making
- identify higher-risk organizations, sectors, geographic areas, and activities by using appropriate assessment criteria and data analytics (where available) and develop operational plans to target our efforts
- collaborate with other regulators to identify shared opportunities to address risks
- wherever possible, regulators should share information and data as much as is permitted under the existing legislative and policy framework, with a view to ensuring that an undue regulatory burden is not placed on businesses with a history of compliance
- protect public health and safety, preserve the environment and promote economic growth, and encourage general deterrence by sharing compliance information and other relevant data with regulators across the OPS, where possible
- adjust the type and frequency of information requests we make according to risk, where permissible
- review risk assessment criteria regularly and amend strategies and activities to reflect changing priorities that may result from new and evolving evidence
Using a risk-based approach supports greater consistency across Ontario regulators and allows for effective resource allocation, resulting in improved protection.
Communicate, educate and offer guidance to businesses and other regulated entities to promote compliance.
While most individuals, businesses, and other regulated organizations in Ontario comply with our laws, some may have difficulty complying due to:
- misunderstanding the requirements of legislation
- errors in taking steps to achieve compliance
- lack of available resources
To address this gap, we:
- take proactive approaches to compliance based on prevention by communicating expectations and providing compliance assistance, information, guidance, education or other tools, through a range of accessible channels, to facilitate compliance
- communicate in plain language to help those we regulate better understand what is expected of them
- identify and explain any non-compliance issues we find, including outlining any actions required and associated timeframes
- communicate clearly about what is a regulatory requirement and what is a good practice
We can improve compliance and protect the public interest better through a greater focus on clear, targeted and simple communications.
Apply a proportionate approach to improve and promote compliance.
We safeguard the public interest by improving compliance outcomes in the most efficient and effective manner.
Our front-line staff are authorized to use a range of tools when responding to:
We aim to apply these tools in a manner that is proportionate to the circumstances, based on a compliance continuum. This includes providing education or assistance to encourage voluntary compliance, with progressive escalation (For example, warnings, orders, tickets, penalties, etc.) where needed to correct or improve compliance, and focusing enforcement on high-risk entities, including willful and/or persistent non-compliers.
Where there is a high degree of risk, serious misconduct or repeated non-compliance, decisive and appropriate action may be taken right away.
We use our discretion to determine the best compliance action based on an assessment of risk and the surrounding circumstances. In our application of discretion, we are mindful of the importance of providing businesses and other regulated entities with a level playing field, which is achieved in part by a principled, consistent approach to verifying compliance. This is an important balance we must consider as modern regulators. With this approach we:
- provide clear information about our compliance approaches, and the range of compliance and enforcement tools available to us
- act in a way that is proportionate to the circumstances, and use our discretion to choose the best option/tool for the circumstances
- apply our discretion according to our organization’s policies and objective criteria (for example, relevant legislation, level of risk, seriousness of the conduct, past compliance record, and a demonstrated willingness to cooperate)
- ensure front-line field staff are trained on how to assess risk and apply discretion to work through the compliance continuum
At all times, staff seek to work cooperatively and in a professional manner with the responsible person(s) and/or organization(s) to help address impacts of an incident and to prevent recurrence.
Monitor, measure, evaluate and report on our activities and outcomes to adapt and improve the effectiveness of regulatory delivery and compliance activities.
We are committed to the continuous improvement of our regulatory approaches to ensure we remain efficient and effective in achieving our outcomes. To achieve the best results, we:
- review the effectiveness of our compliance activities to ensure they are delivering the best outcomes, and adjust our approaches as necessary
- update our knowledge and skills to reflect best practices, regulatory and industry trends and modern approaches to compliance
- respond to feedback from the regulated community and the public and identify opportunities for improvement
We welcome feedback from everyone involved, including through appropriate public consultations with businesses and other regulated entities, to help us strengthen how we protect those things that matter most to Ontarians.
By working together and following the Code, our aim is to improve compliance outcomes and support economic growth for a safer, healthier Ontario. To ensure the Code remains relevant, we share information on how we are applying its principles and the outcomes we are achieving. We recognize staff, teams and organizations that demonstrate excellence in applying the principles outlined in the Code. We also monitor feedback to identify opportunities for continuous improvement.
- footnote Back to paragraph Does not apply to Crown Counsel, paralegals, legislative branch, the judiciary, the Human Rights Commission, tribunals, police, internal regulators, federal or municipal regulators nor to transfer payment agencies unless considered relevant by the responsible ministry.