The new year will usher in a host of new laws and rules that Canadians should be aware of, including changes to parental leave benefits and the sale of edible cannabis products.

On the provincial level, 2019 will see new rules regarding distracted driving penalties, rent increases, and workplace sexual harassment.

The implementation of a federally imposed carbon tax on provinces that have failed to come up with their own plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could become a reality pending legal challenges to the plan by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs.

Manitoba has also yet to come up with a plan before the federal government’s Jan. 1 deadline.

Here are the other highlights you need to know:


'Use-it-or-lose-it' extended parental leave

Last fall, the federal government accelerated the timeline on a new parental sharing benefit that seeks to encourage parents to more equally share the responsibility of raising children.

The new measure will provide an additional five weeks of Employment Insurance parental benefits when both parents agree to share them to take time off work. For those who choose the extended parental leave of 18 months, an additional eight weeks of EI benefits will be available to couples who share the time off.

Parents, including same-sex and adoptive parents, with children born or placed for adoption on or after March 17, 2019, will be eligible for the new benefit.

Sale of edible cannabis products

The production and sale of edible cannabis, cannabis extracts, and cannabis topicals will be legal in Canada no later than Oct. 17, 2019.

On Dec. 20, Health Canada announced the government is launching a 60-day public consultation on its draft regulations regarding the sale of these products.

The draft regulations propose restricting the use of ingredients that would increase their appeal to young people, increase the risk of food-borne illnesses, and increase the likelihood of accidental or over-consumption. It also suggests placing a cap on the amount of THC in a single product.

Other recommendations include requiring products to have child-resistant and plain packaging along with clear labels with the standardized cannabis symbol and a health warning.

In terms of manufacturing, Health Canada proposed implementing strict controls on production, including prohibiting the production of food and edible cannabis in the same facility.

Food safety regulations

The federal government will begin enacting consolidated food safety regulations, some of which come into force on January 15, 2019.

In a news release, the government said the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations will ensure that “food on grocery shelves is safer to eat, whether it is produced in Canada or abroad.”

Among the new regulations: business that import food or prepare food for export across provincial and territorial borders will need to have licenses and “preventive controls” to ensure food safety.

Most businesses will also have to keep traceability records so that unsafe or contaminated foods can be faster removed from the marketplace.


Harsher distracted driving penalties

Starting Jan. 1, 2019, Ontario is increasing penalties for distracted driving conditions. They include a fine of up to $1,000, a three-day licence suspension and three demerit points for a first conviction involving drivers with A to G licences.

Novice drivers will face a 30-day licence suspension for a first conviction, a 90-day licence suspension for a second conviction and licence cancellation for a third conviction.


Cutting rent increases

The provincial government announced last fall that it will cut the annual allowable rent increase in B.C. by two per cent and limit it to inflation.

That means the annual rent increase will be limited to 2.5 per cent, starting Jan. 1, 2019. The move aims to “strike a balance between giving relief to renters while encouraging people to maintain their rental properties.”


Mandatory training for truckers

Starting March 1, 2019, there will be new training and operating requirements for trucking companies and their employees in Alberta, in response to the deadly Humboldt Broncos crash.

The new rules will include a standardized curriculum taught in all driver training schools, compulsory levels of in-class and in-vehicle training, and enhanced knowledge and road tests.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan will introduce its own mandatory training levels for truckers.

Starting on March 15, drivers in that province will need 121.5 hours of training before they’ll be able to take a test to get a Class 1 trucking license. Currently, there’s little regulation in Saskatchewan when it comes to training transport truck drivers.


Labour standards

Workers in Quebec will enjoy new benefits thanks to amendments to the province’s Bill 176 -- “An Act to amend the Act respecting labour standards and other legislative provisions mainly to facilitate family-work balance.”

On Jan. 1, 2019, a number of changes to the bill will come into effect concerning paid leave, overtime, equal pay, vacation, and psychological harassment.

Starting in the new year, Quebec employees will receive three weeks of paid vacation if they’ve worked for the same employer for three uninterrupted years. In the past, workers had to have five years of uninterrupted service to be entitled to three weeks of vacation.

Employees will also be able to take five days off, two of which will be paid, when a loved one dies. They used to only be allowed to take two days off.

Following the amendment, Quebec workers will be able to refuse to work more than two hours beyond their regularly scheduled hours.


Workplace violence and harassment

On April 9, 2019, regulatory changes to address violence and harassment in the workplace will come into effect in New Brunswick.

Under the new regulations, harassment and violence, including sexual violence and harassment, will be defined as workplace hazards that affect employees’ health and safety.

Employers will be required to develop and implement a written code of practice to prevent harassment in their workplace. They will also have to perform a risk assessment to determine the likelihood of violence in their work setting.

Compensation for injured workers

Employers in New Brunswick will find some relief in 2019 in the form of lower payments to WorkSafeNB – the crown corporation responsible for workplace safety and compensation for injured workers.

Thanks to new legislation passed in December, the rate employers owe next year will only increase to $2.65 on every $100 of payroll, as opposed to the rate of $2.92 announced earlier in the year.

WorkSafeNB premiums have soared in the province in recent years to the dismay of employers – particularly smaller businesses – burdened with the higher costs.

The changes will also do away with the unpaid three-day waiting period workers injured on the job used to be subjected to when they filed a claim for compensation.


Gender identity on birth certificates

In January 2019, Nova Scotians who don’t exclusively identify as male or female will have the option of an “X” to signify their gender identity on their birth certificates.

The legislation, passed in September, will also give people the ability to remove the sex field on their birth certificate altogether.

The fee to change the sex indicator on a birth certificate will also be waived when the changes come into effect, according to the provincial government.

Nova Scotia will join Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories in offering “X” as an option on birth certificates. Ontario and Saskatchewan also have the option to not display the sex field on birth certificates.

Cap-and-trade system

Nova Scotia will launch its cap-and-trade system in January 2019 in an effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the federal government’s directive that all provinces and territories must put a price on their carbon pollution. 

Under the new program, which was approved by Ottawa in October, Nova Scotia will set annual caps on how many tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions will be permitted. Companies that emit less than their allowances will be able to sell excess credits to companies who emit more and surpass their allowances.

The provincial government claims their plan will cost residents less than the federal’s government’s alternative carbon tax. Under the cap-and-trade system, Nova Scotia estimates the price of gas will increase by 1 cent per litre compared to 11 cents per litre by 2020 under the federal plan.


Family violence leave

Victims of domestic violence will be allowed to take 10 days of leave – three of them paid – each year thanks to amendments to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Labour Standards Act.

The changes, which come into effect Jan. 1, will give employees who are the victims or parents of victims of family violence the opportunity to receive medical attention, attend counselling, or seek accommodations without losing wages or being penalized for missing work, according to the act.

Ban on declawing cats

Following in Nova Scotia and British Columbia’s footsteps, Newfoundland and Labrador will ban the practice of declawing cats in the new year.

With the support of the Newfoundland and Labrador Veterinary Medical Association, the N.L. College of Veterinarians passed a resolution in November banning declawing surgeries, unless medically necessary. The changes take effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Prince Edward Island’s veterinary medical association also announced a ban on declawing surgeries on cats following a vote at their annual meeting in November.