Monthly Archives: June 2014

“The Lady doth protest too much, methinks”

The above words from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” are much-quoted, and for good reason. They indicate if someone makes frequent and earnest attempts to convince others of something, it usually ends up convincing others the opposite is true.

The media event/breakfast organized by Tarion for select media on June 20th, 2014 seems a case in point. Tarion senior executives did their utmost to portray Tarion as a consumer champion. Tarion’s self-congratulatory presentation at this event shows a very different picture of Tarion than that which came to light at the acrimonious question period at the Annual Public Meeting on April 30th this year.

Tarion described itself at the recent media event as coming to the rescue of homeowners who’ve discovered cracked foundations, or been delivered the wrong fireplaces or square footage contrary to their purchase contracts. Yet for years, consumers and consumer organizations have described Tarion as builder-biased and subservient to the influence and power of the building industry.

The well-known consumer columnist Ellen Roseman of The Toronto Star wrote about this event: “Despite the charm offensive, I think Tarion will continue to draw criticism”.  See her full article at this link:

Many consumers have had their claims denied by Tarion for new home defects, and see no record of these defects on the “Builder Directory” which is supposed to give “full disclosure” of all defects Tarion has inspected. For years consumers have voiced concerns to the Liberal governement about lack of transparency and accountability at Tarion. This is hard to independently verify since Tarion is not subject to any independent oversight. Neither the Auditor General of Ontario nor the Ombudsman of Ontario have authority to look into Tarion, nor does Tarion have to disclose its executive salaries over $100,000 under the government’s “Sunshine List”. Add to this the fact that Tarion enjoys a govenment-mandated monopoly in home warranties and a government-mandated consumer protection mandate, with passive “oversight” by the Ministry of Consumer Services whose Ministers are a revolving door of change every year or so. In the light of recent government spending scandals, all at arms-length corporations from the govenment, this should be sending up red flags. It is not. The government seems content to get Tarion’s report card – from Tarion itself.

Consumers responded to the article about the Tarion media event, the  “charm offensive“, with two letters to the editor (one by the author of this Blog) which were published by The Toronto Star on June 27th. See the letters at this link:

Elsewhere in this blog consumer issues with Tarion are explained in detail, but all revolve around one concern: a monopoly without meaningful oversight is a slippery slope. No one but the monopoly itself has the right to look into its own business practices and decide if and when to compensate homeowners, if and when to let builders completely off the hook for defects, and whether to list any of this on the public record for the future home-buying public to see. Of additional concern is that Tarion has also a monopoly in licensing builders and “regulating the building industry”. But are there enough deterrents for shoddy builders, or are the penalties strong enough to change behavoir?

As this media event demonstrated, Tarion completely controls the flow of information. Journalists were told they would not be given the name of the builder of the “case study” development which got a $5 million settlement, and the underlying cause of the defect (of course it wasn’t the builder’s fault!) were varied and contradictory. Consumers are now urging Tarion to make this case study public. The unfortunate thing is they don’t have to. There is no oversight authority with real teeth over Tarion, no consumer watchdog, inadequate transparency in their business practices, and no consumer advocates advising Tarion on consumer policy. A group of Tarion employees themselves questioned these practices in a detailed letter to Premier Wynne on March 31st, 2014. Which she seems to have promptly ignored.

Lucky for Premier Wynne, the president of her Liberal party is a senior Tarion Vice-President, a former Liberal government lobbyist. A cozy relationship indeed, which has been repeatedly questioned as a conflict of interest, but even this has been promptly dimissed by Tarion as coming from people who are “not reasonable”.

In the words of a Tarion expert, a former MPP with over 20 years experience in all matters Tarion – their CEO really “doesn’t have to give a d…m.”

There wil be undoubtedly more self-congratualtory media events from Tarion.  But “The dog who barks the loudest is not always the best observer.  (W.S.Downey, Proverbs)


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“Until the lion…

Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Chinua Achebe

Who speaks for new home/condo buyers at the “consumer protection” body, the government-appointed monopoly,  Tarion Warranty Corporation? …..Builders, public servants, generalist corporate directors, it seems. Good luck developing policy to actually understand and protect the interests of new home/condo buyers.



June 20, 2014 · 2:33 pm

A Wake-up Call for Premier Wynne

The horses are out of the barn, and Premier Wynne now begins her next four years as Premier of Ontario.

She has promised she’ll be a “no more scandals” Premier. Voters have given her a hall pass with “I’m sorry” and “I didn’t know anything about it” as acceptable reasons for the wasteful spending revelations of the last several years.

Any spending scandals from here on in, though, are her responsibility.

An interesting foreboding of some rocky roads ahead came from The Toronto Star’s columnist Martin Regg Cohn in his post-election column of June 15th, 2014.

He wrote:

“Wynne must reduce the lingering stench of past scandals from her predecessor’s premiership – not just by cleaning up – but by avoiding future repetitions . (…) It is a major undertaking, given that most memorable boondoggles on McGuinty’s watch occurred in outside agencies: ORNGE, eHealth, OLG, The Power Authority.

The accountability model is broken. We need a way to flag outside agencies for closer scrutiny based on a watch-list of risk factors (opacity, public health an safety, cash flow, over-sized operations, past problems, sheer complexity).

Accountability isn’t sexy, but boondoggles can be deadly. To avoid tarnishing her own image, preemptive action must be a priority.”   (emphasis mine)

Its curious that Premier Wynne continues to ignore clear warning signals from the public and  from MPPs in the Legislature about TARION WARRANTY COPRORATION. Even Tarion’s own employees wrote an Open Letter to Premier Wynne in March this year questioning various Tarion business practices and bias toward the building industry. Its clear to many new home buyers, MPPs, consumer groups, and even to some of their own employees, that the “accountability model” governing Tarion, whatever it is, is not only broken but may never have existed at all.

The Auditor General has no authority to examine Tarion’s books, the Ombudsman of Ontario has no authority over Tarion, and the Sunshine List for disclosure of executive salaries does not apply either.  Tarion enjoys a government-granted monopoly in new home warranties and also is responsible for “regulating the building industry“. But who is minding the shop, making sure the new home/condo buyer is protected ? Builders? Tarion’s board is dominated by the building industry (8 builders out of 13 on the board), yet the government  tells us Tarion is “protecting new home buyers“.

Premier Wynne seems to find the status quo just fine.  She has done her utmost to ignore concerns brought to her attention about Tarion – for years – brushing them aside to her Minister MacCharles, who seems little more than a Tarion spokesperson. No one seems to be the watchdog over this government-granted monopoly with a very important consumer protection mandate.

One thing is for sure: Premier Wynne won’t be able to say she’s not aware of the increasing concerns about Tarion, this “Delegated Administrative Authority” of her government. It may be difficult for her to blame McGuinty, since she herself has personally received ample warnings of the problems since she became Premier in Feb. 2012, and also in her position as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, a member of McGuinty’s inner circle.

The Star’s columnist Mr. Cohn hit the nail on the head: “the accountability model is broken“. Or perhaps it never existed at all in a meaningful way. The Toronto Star’s own investigative reports of Tarion in late 2013 uncovered many serious concerns with transparency and oversight, eventually all brushed aside by Tarion and Ministry authorities, maintaining their chief concern is the consumer.

A troubling problem with oversight, just one of them, is Tarion’s internal “ombudsman“.  Tarion senior executives say their internal “ombudsman“, reporting to Tarion’s board, is “independent” and “impartial“. Yet this ombudsman is responsible for investigating (impartially)  his own employer’s business, reporting back to his own employer, and his performance is judged, you guessed it, by his own employer. This makes no sense. Unless all you want to do is give the appearance of oversight without seriously providing it. According to the Ombudsman of Ontario, in a speech to a government Standing Committee in 2006 regarding the role of an ombudsman in general,  he states: “under no circumstances should ombudsmen be employees of the organizations they oversee.” It seems Premier Wynne and Tarion don’t agree with him.

In an e-mail sent to consumers dated June 13th, 2014, copied to the Ministry, Tarion’s V.P. writes: “The Ministry has indicated it finds the current structure to be appropriate.”  Well now that’s a relief.

Premier Wynne, its your responsibility to fix the oversight model. The buck stops with you.  Transparency and accountability are values you have repeatedly told us your government holds dear.

We hope fixing the problem doesn’t prove inconvenient, given that the building industry – with its considerable vested interests in Tarion – has just made huge financial contributions to your  re-election campaign.



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Listen to the Other Side

Conde Nast Collection, Cartoon by Stan Hunt.

Conde Nast Collection, Cartoon by Stan Hunt.


After buying a new home or condo in Ontario, a growing number of consumers say they’ll never to do it again.

Why not?

Many have discovered construction defects in their new homes, and the government-mandated Tarion warranty they bought – in a fee passed on to them by the builder – didn’t compensate them for the defects. The warranty is supposed to “guarantee” new homes against construction defects, and “back-stop” the builder’s obligations to deliver the home “free of defects in workmanship and materials”.  Yet many consumers have found themselves on their own, paying for defects they unfortunately discovered after the Tarion 2-year warranty expired, or which didn’t fit the legal definition of a “major structural defect”.  Further, many who appealed Tarion’s warranty decisions to the “License Appeal Tribunal” (LAT) found themselves up against not one, but two lawyers – Tarion’s and the builder’s – and lost their appeals.

It doesn’t take much to see this is not a level playing field for consumers. It’s not often about who is right, or who is telling the truth: its about legal tactics, with which consumers have no experience. Unrepresented consumers are very vulnerable in the courtroom, and their failure rate is  dismally high, close to 90%. (CPBH analysis of the LAT, 2013)

What continues to frustrate consumers is that their point of view rarely seems to be taken seriously in the policy making process, either at Tarion or the Ministry of Consumer Services. Lip service is given, heads nod, e-mails are filed (or deleted), and little improvement follows. Tarion goes through the motions of Annual Public Meeting question periods, jargon-heavy “consultations” on their website, but little improvement comes out of recommendations made by consumers, consumer advocates and consumer organizations.  MPPs have called out for reform in the Ontario Legislature, underlining that Tarion has not been subject to meaningful reform for its entire existence, 37 years.

The lack of actual consumer participation in policy decisions is not surprising. There are no consumers on Tarion’s board, and no consumer watchdogs are permitted to oversee its activities. An internal committee called the “Consumer Advisory Council”, operates seemingly behind closed doors, and refuses direct contact with consumers. Meanwhile, the affluent and well-staffed building lobbies – BILD and OHBA –  make sure their industry’s interests are well understood and well communicated to boardroom decision-makers. Eight of Tarion’s thirteen board seats are occupied by OHBA builders, and several key building  executives write regular paid columns in many of Ontario’s influential newspapers.

So WHO is representing the consumer point of view at the decision-making table? Builders. Yes, builders, and a handful of lawyers and corporate executives. According to Tarion’s long-time former board Chair, builders are the best ones to represent consumer interests, as he stated for the public record at Tarion’s Public Meeting on April 25, 2013)

Perhaps builders who are supposed to be representing consumer interests will recall a statement made by one of their executive board members of the OHBA, Oct. 20th, 2004 in a “Strategic Review Committee Paper” (pg. 16, para. 5):  “…many members had expressed concerns (…) and that it was important that the bar not be lowered to the point that consumers do not place value on the benefits of warranty coverage.”

Consumer trust and confidence in the new home building industry and the mandatory warranty coverage is key.  Builders, building industry lobbies, Tarion as industry regulator, and the Ministry as “oversight” authority, all have an interest in listening to and  properly understanding the consumer’s interests. They need to take consumer input seriously and involve actual consumers in the policy-making process.

A builder’s version of what consumers think is not the consumer’s point of view.  We’re not all glossy magazine-crazed, “dreamers” obsessed with up-grades, complaining about paint smudges on mirrors.

Consumers deserve to get what they paid for: a new home “free of defects in workmanship and materials”, promised under Ontario law, and the warranty coverage they are obliged to pay for by law. Regulators of the industry shouldn’t end up subsidizing shoddy builders, and making the consumer pay for their wrong-doing. Or making it easier for these builders to escape accountability,  and providing incomplete builder track records to the public. Who would seriously believe that the body charged with regulating the building industry should be dominated by those it is supposed to be regulating? This is a classic case of the butcher inspecting his own meat.

“Listen to the other side”, or “audi alteram partem” is one of the fundamental principles of fairness and justice. If consumers are not properly represented at policy-making tables, the policies made by a builder-dominated board will never protect anyone’s interests but their own, packaged in consumer protection spin.


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MPP Toby Barrett, PC party’s expert on Tarion – underlines need for “real action”

A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

Thomas Paine,  political thinker/writer; 1737-1809


Although its hard for consumers to contact their MPPs during the run-up to the Ontario election, two enterprising young homeowners got a call-back on June 6th from PC MPP Toby Barrett answering their questions about what his party will do regarding reforms to Tarion.

MPP Barrett was Critic for the Ministry of Consumer Services in the last Legislature, and this is the Ministry which is supposed to have “oversight” over Tarion. Barrett is one of the best-informed MPPs in the PC party on problems new home/condo buyers have had with the warranty programme.

In a short video clip published this week on You Tube, and on the Facebook page, homeowner Jeffrey Ferland asks MPP Barrett what the PCs will do to address these problems if his party is elected June 12th, 2014.

Ministers must be held accountable”, he emphasizes. This is one of the concerns consumers have repeatedly raised – inadequate oversight. The various Ministers of Consumer Services over the years under the Wynne/McGuinty government have focused on “customer service” issues at Tarion, as though that could be of any use at all to someone suffering construction defects in their new home.

MPP Barrett also noted “the government created Tarion, therefore it is accountable for making it work correctly“. The word accountability is key in this current climate of  “I’m sorry“, “it wasn’t me”, “it was my predecessor“, “I’ve fixed everything now”.  With the backdrop of various Liberal government spending scandals, special audits by the Auditor General of Ontario seem to be the only way to bring sunlight to organizations like Tarion who enjoy a monopoly, collect indirect warranty fees for every home or condo sold in Ontario, and are supposed to act in the public interest. Tarion seems to be an example of an organization crying out for closer scrutiny and meaningful oversight. To leave new home buyers on their own to fight builders for construction defects in court, after Tarion has aligned its interests in getting rid of the claim with the builder’s in walking away from the whole thing, is not in the public interest. Especially if there is no record of the builder’s defects on the licensing authority’s (Tarion’s) record.

Greater scrutiny, transparency, and effective oversight are urgently needed to reform this monopoly, this “Delegated Administrative Authority” of the government of Ontario. It needs to be made accountable to the consumers it was created to protect.

Thank you also MPP Barrett for supporting Bill 190 in the last Legislature which called for the Auditor General of Ontario to investigate Tarion. This is the only credible way to examine how this organization is spending the mandatory fee new home buyers are forced to pay, passed on to them by new home builders.

– Why are so many new home and condo buyers finding out they don’t have the warranty protection they thought they paid for?…

– Why are so many defects under-reported by the licensing authority, Tarion?…

– Why do construction defects continue to proliferate in the new home/condo market in Ontario?…

– Why is the industry which is supposed to be regulated by Tarion dominating policy-making by occupying 8 out of 13 board positions at Tarion?

That’s like setting the rules of the game and being referee as well. A sure way for the building industry to protect its own vested interests.

Tarion seems, in the opinion of many consumers, MPPs, and consumer advocates, to have drifted too far away from its government-mandated mission of “protecting new home buyers.

Thank you, MPP Barrett, for telling consumers its time now forREAL ACTION“.

We rely on you and your PC colleagues to bring forward new Bills in the new Legislative Assembly to bring effective and credible oversight to Tarion, starting with a special audit by the Auditor General of Ontario.

Tarion must be brought back its consumer focus, to protect those the legislation was created to help in the first place.

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