Ministry 'missed the boat on Tay cemetery response: Norris

Tay Township passed a resolution last month looking at the administration and management of operating cemeteries during transfers or abandonments, and the province took notice.

At the recent committee of the whole meeting, a response letter from the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery was pulled for discussion by Deputy Mayor Barry Norris.

“It was pretty self-explanatory,” Norris shared with fellow committee members. “It wasn’t anything new that we didn’t already know. I think the director quite got the gist of where we were going with this.”

Tay’s resolution was that administration matters be handled by the clerk’s department internally for a three-year trial period instead of outsourcing work; ground maintenance also be handled internally for a one-year span; and interments be an external function with no set time limit.

Kelly Houston-Routley – the director responsible for policy related to the provincial Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2002, its regulations, and for oversight of the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) – replied in mid-March to Tay’s resolution.

In the letter, Houston-Routley acknowledged the township’s request for the Ontario government to provide municipalities the relief, financially and legislatively, to handle cemeteries. Requests for additional resources to support those operators were also recognized.

However, the ministry told Tay that it wasn’t considering providing municipalities with that help currently, although talks to find solutions were undertaken between 2019 and 2021. As well, it was noted that regulatory changes to increase cemetery care and maintenance fund account contributions occurred in 2022.

Additionally, Houston-Routley informed Tay that, for greater flexibility in the framework, the capital portion of those funds and accounts could be used to increase the capacity of a cemetery if permitted through BAO Registrar approval for non-commercial cemetery operators such as municipalities.

“As far as I’m concerned, they (the ministry) missed the boat here,” said Norris, who noted large support for the township’s resolution.

“It’s a problem within the province, which cemeteries are being handed over back to municipalities. One of the biggest drawbacks is the care and maintenance funds we are getting aren’t adequately financed to operate these.”

Norris said that given the township clerk’s department handling the matter directly, a return letter from that department would be the best course of action.

He added that in the 1950s: “The province were the ones who mandated that cemeteries would be overseen by the area municipalities. It is law – their law – that all burials are to be placed in cemeteries.

“So they created the law; it’s not our fault that no guidance or anything else was put under the municipal factor for us to oversee all these cemeteries during the operation,” Norris added.

Norris – a former assistant manager for the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries – further commented that before the turn of the millennium, a deposit of $100,000 toward the care and maintenance fund of a newly-established cemetery was done with the intent the cemetery would later become self-sustaining as part of a long-term plan.

When asked if other members of the committee of the whole and the clerk’s department would be amenable for a return letter to the ministry, consensus was granted by all.

Information on Tay Township cemeteries, including bylaws and pricing, can be found on the cemeteries page of the municipal website.

The Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery response letter can be found in the agenda page on the Tay Township website.

Tay council meets for committee of the whole meetings every second Wednesday of the month, and regular council meetings every fourth Wednesday of the month. Archives and livestreams of council meetings are available through the Tay Township YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,