“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:

http://www.thestar.com/business/personal_finance/2014/06/20/tarion_needs_more_accountability_roseman.html

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:

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2014/06/27/make_tarion_case_study_public.html

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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