January is the traditional time for people to fulfill promises to themselves in the form of New Year’s resolutions. But it's also a common date for government pledges to take effect, when new regulations take effect or updates to old laws kick in.

Here are a few of the major updates to both federal and provincial legislation coming on Jan. 1, and what some of them may mean to you.


In Ontario, smokers will no longer be able to indulge in their habit on restaurant or bar patios, as well as at playgrounds and publicly owned sports fields. Changes to the Smoke Free Ontario Act will also include a ban on the sale of tobacco on college and university campuses.

Violations could lead to fines, though they aren’t as hefty as those related to the ban on smoking indoors. Smokers caught lighting up near a playground may face a fine of $250, while anyone selling cigarettes on campus could be slapped with a $300 fine.


Canada's controversial prostitution legislation took effect in December, so while it jumps the queue by a couple of weeks it's worth mentioning because it’s a keystone of the federal government’s tough-on-crime agenda.

Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, makes purchasing sexual services a criminal offence. It also criminalizes the activity of third parties who financially benefit from exploiting others through prostitution.

The bill is a response to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down the country’s prostitution laws as unconstitutional because they created a dangerous environment by impeding sex workers’ ability to protect themselves. Prostitution advocates have decried the bill, saying it does little to protect sex workers or end the stigma associated with their work.


Access-to-abortion advocates in New Brunswick are hailing a surprise decision by Premier Brian Gallant to amend the province's abortion laws.

The changes mean that women will no longer have to seek approval from two doctors before having an abortion.

Abortions will also no longer have to be performed by a specialist, meaning access to the procedure should improve as more doctors are able to offer them.

Income splitting

The federal government has followed through on its 2011 election promise to introduce income splitting for couples with children under the age of 18.

The Family Tax cut will allow a higher earning spouse to transfer up to $50,000 of taxable income to a spouse in a lower income bracket. The measure will provide eligible families with a maximum of $2,000 per year in tax relief.

Parents will also receive more from the Universal Child Care Benefit in the new year. The benefit for children under age 6 jumps from $100 to $160, while a new benefit of $60 per month will be created for children aged 6 to 17.

While the enhanced benefit comes into effect on Jan. 1, payments will begin in July with a lump-sum deposit.


Business owners struggling to fill job vacancies may appreciate the federal government’s new entry program for skilled workers.

Express Entry streamlines permanent residency applications for immigrants coming to Canada under three federal programs: the Federal Skilled Worker program, the Federal Skilled Trades program, and the Canadian Experience Class.

Under the program, candidates complete an online profile detailing their education, skills and other information. The highest-ranked candidates, as well as those who already have job offers, can apply for permanent residency. Applicants who are not eligible to apply for permanent residency on their first try can re-submit their profile after 12 months.

The new program is designed to ensure that Canada attracts skilled workers to fill current and future labour shortages.

Rail safety

Canadians worried about dangerous goods being transported through their backyards will be looking at the federal government's moves to improve rail safety.

In November, the feds unveiled new safety rules that require all rail companies that operate in Canada to obtain a "Railway Operating Certificate" to strengthen Transport Canada’s oversight and enforcement.

Under the certificate system, inspectors can issue non-compliance letters, which rail companies would have 14 days to address. However, a notice in the Canada Gazette says Transport Canada would only revoke a certificate "in extreme cases,"" such as "company-wide or chronic non-compliance,"" or where there is a serious safety risk.

Rail companies that are seeking to operate in Canada for the first time will have to obtain a certificate right away. The 66 rail companies that already operate here will have two years to obtain a certificate.


Anyone who likes to play fast and loose with copyright laws might want to make sure those photos they’ve used on their personal blog or professional website are in fact theirs for the taking.

The final piece of the Conservative government’s Copyright Modernization Act, the Notice and Notice regime, requires internet service providers (ISPs) and website hosts to notify a user if there’s been an allegation of copyright infringement connected to their Internet address.

Under the regime, a copyright holder must contact an ISP or host in writing with specific details about the material under copyright, the nature of the infringement, including the time and date, and the website or websites associated with the incident.

ISPs and hosts must then forward the letter to the alleged offender. The scary part? These records must be kept for a minimum of six months in the event that a copyright holder decides to sue.


A battle over gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools has heated up to the point where Premier Jim Prentice has ordered a cooling off period before legislation on the issue goes any further.

The governing PCs introduced controversial Bill 10 in early December, and within days the legislation had passed both first and second reading. The legislation scuttled Bill 202, a private member’s bill put forth by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, that would have made gay-straight alliances in the province’s schools mandatory.

Bill 10 would allow students to appeal to their school board and then the courts if they were denied starting a gay-straight alliance at their school.

An outcry over Bill 10 led Prentice to put third reading on hold, pending further consultation with Albertans. It remains unclear whether the bill will become law in 2015, Bill 202 will be resurrected, or whether a whole new law will be drawn up. Watch for the debate to continue in the new year.


British Columbians will soon be able to pick up a bottle of alcohol with their cereal, eggs and bananas when the province's new liquor laws take effect.

On April 1, the province will begin allowing the sale of alcohol in grocery stores via the store-within-a-store model. It will also loosen some restrictions on BC Liquor Stores, which will allow them to extend their hours of operation, and allow them to open on Sundays.

For now, sales are limited to grocery stores that fit particular criteria, including that 75 per cent of sales come from food products and the store is at least 10,000 square feet in size. But more changes could be on the way, as the province continues its ongoing review of its liquor policy.


The issue of giving Canadians the right to a physician-assisted suicide will play out both on the national and provincial stages in 2015.

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether Criminal Code provisions against assisted suicide violate the Charter of Rights, and is expected to issue a ruling sometime before the year is out.

Meanwhile, a new bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide has been introduced in the Senate, and could be referred to the House of Commons sometime in the spring. The bill’s sponsors, Sens. Nancy Ruth and Larry Campbell, say it will pave the way for the provinces to change their laws.

Quebec already has a jump on the matter. In June, the National Assembly passed Bill 52, a comprehensive bill that deals with end-of-life care. It includes provisions for when a patient can request something called continuous palliative sedation, which would lead to death.