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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//twitter.com/ReformTarion/status/478316316026097664

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One response to “A Wake-up Call for Premier Wynne

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