How to Run an Annual Public Meeting without Listening to your Customers

Source: 'New Yorker Magazine cartoon, Conde Nast, by Mankoff.'

Source: ‘New Yorker Magazine cartoon, Conde Nast, by Mankoff.’

Since 2008,  Tarion Warranty Corporation, the Ontario government’s monopoly which regulates builders and provides mandatory home warranties, has been obligated to hold an Annual Public Meeting (“APM”). This was to create a “public service culture”.

With each successive year, Tarion has sought to take the “public” out of this meeting.  This week’s June 1st session was again a step backwards.

At the 2014 APM, consumer backlash seems to have caught management like a deer in the headlights. This year, consumers continued to ask serious questions about bias toward builders, over-lawyering of disputes, the lack of transparency in Tarion’s builder track records, Tarion’s lack of adherence to its own regulations, and the lack of consumer advocates on the board.

The management happy-talk this year only added more fuel to the fire. There’s a disconnect between what Tarion says it does, and what it actually appears to be doing. All the while selling us the “we protect new home buyers” slogan.

This year’s meeting was replete with the usual empty platitudes like wanting to give consumers “confidence in the home buying experience“, “educating consumers“, helping those “having trouble communicating with builders“, and “increasing confidence in Tarion’s decision-making“, and “improving the service experience”.  All of which is of zero interest to someone freezing in their new home, or fighting Tarion’s lawyers to get their homes fixed. One consumer quipped she was pleased to attend the Annual Tarion PR event.

Not to worry, we’re assured, “Tarion is working with the Ministry“; and the Ministry is “working with Tarion“. What a relief.  Now we’re told Tarion is “working with the License Appeal Tribunal“. To perhaps find out how to stop suing its own customers?

It was announced at Monday’s meeting that Tarion has hired yet another “consultant”.  You guessed it, a lawyer, for early dispute resolution.

A very news-y item to come out of Monday night’s meeting was: Tarion has completed a plain language review. From now on Tarion will only use clear language to communicate with consumers, making everything for us easier to understand. As opposed to what?

Here are a few of the measures taken this year to stifle consumer feedback at the meeting:

1) An “external moderator” was hired to control the questions from the audience, shielding the Chair and CEO from angry consumers or tough questions. To ingratiate himself with the audience, the moderator announced he knew nothing of Tarion or its activities. An avuncular figure, he seemed to really get into his role during the meeting, asking one or two questions of his own when his curiosity got piqued, and occasionally answering a question which was directed at Tarion. He unctuously apologized to a Tarion executive for calling him “Ian” when he should have used his surname. But, he explained, it must have been their common background in London, Ontario which caused this slip in formality.  This silly banter seemed a tactic to reduce the time allotted for consumer questions.

2) No video or audio recordings allowed by anyone; only Tarion was allowed to video-record the meeting. No one is permitted to have a copy. (Reason: to protect our privacy!)

3) A limited number of “live” questions were permitted from the audience of approx. 200 attendees. Consumers were instructed to line up behind one of the two standing microphones in the cavernous room to wait for permission to ask their question.  The moderator whittled away more time with silly anecdotes and turned frequently to read anonymous, pre-submitted, questions from the screen, or questions from web viewers.

4) The webcast was cut off half-way, according to several participants, as was the case last year.

5) The meeting was held at a large hotel not easily accessible by public transit;

6) Consumers had to stand in front of an intimidating Spinx-like row of 16 unidentified board members, lawyers, and “leadership team members” to ask their questions.

7) Consumers were cut off from the microphone as soon as their questions became “inconvenient”, such as “How much did you spend on lawyers fighting my family in court?!”   The moderator simply turned off the microphone, the CEO promptly sat down, and the moderator announced he was turning to a question from the web audience.  Oh here’s one: “What can I do about nail pops in my new home”? Panel, anyone like to answer that one?  Many of us haven’t experienced this top-down handling since high school.

8) Consumers who formulated their questions like statements were cut off from the microphone as well. A polite 60-something lady mustered her courage to approach the microphone and say something which represented the feelings of many: “I keep coming to these meetings and you say you’re fixing things, but you’re not…”  The moderator again – No, No, NEXT!

9) Consumers tried to hand out information regarding their Facebook site “Make Tarion Accountable” to other consumers, but were told to stop. As far as I know, freedom of speech is part of our Charter of Rights and Freedom. Tarion seems to be the exception to many rules, so why not this one too.

After the last questioner had been shut down, the audience had no appetite for the closing remarks from the Chair, another prominent builder. The board disappeared into the confines of the hotel away from the madding crowd.

With over $400,000 million in “investments”, $24+ million in salaries, paying out only $9 million in claims, (Annual Report 2014), we all need to keep asking Tarion tough questions.

Thanks to all of you who were brave enough to come out to the meeting, ask your questions, and attend our consumer news conference prior to that. We need to keep asking questions of Tarion, the LAT, and the governing Liberals who continue to stonewall reforms.

Moderator or not, censorship or not, it seems to have fallen to us as individual consumers to make Tarion accountable.


5 Comments

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5 responses to “How to Run an Annual Public Meeting without Listening to your Customers

  1. You can’t go wrong with Accountability + Transparency! Support Bill 60!

  2. This Liberal government is ignoring all Ontarians no matter the issue, I find this disgusting enough to make one sick. The arrogance displayed from Wynne and all her ministers is cause for a revolution, all this government has done so far is address issues that will cost us all more $$$. Such as creating a new agency to deal with misappropriated condo fees at the expense of the owners, it wouldn’t take long for this agency to become bloated and overpaid as all the others with no oversight at all. Great Job Liberals?? You should all be ashamed starting from Wynne the great Li…r that she is.

  3. nicole lalonde

    I totally agree with Mr. Zeppieri and thank Consumers Reform Tarion for this
    ” to be expected ” scenario ; who votes for this Liberal Government ? , certainly not the enlightened ….empty promises and gross arrogance , li…s, cor….ption ; even if Mr. ex TD is apparently in place to ” attempt to assist in setting them in the right direction ” that is a noose around his neck . Pity … Anyone who has been in the McGuinty clan will NEVER rise above it . Tarnished…amoral and out to destroy. Tarion and its bunch of pick – pockets follows the leader …To make Tarion accountable has become a life long goal.

  4. CPBH had representatives at this June 1, 2015 Tarion APM, and we have now spent much of the last couple of days talking to others who were there to ask them their impressions. There seems to be a consensus that while it did not have the same “circus-like” atmosphere of the April 30, 2014 Tarion APM, it was still a highly ineffective APM. Even with the “professional moderator” that Tarion hired, there was a general sense of Tarion reps – and the moderator – just wanting to get through this evening, to be able to put the tick beside the box that says that they HELD an APM. No Tarion rep, including the moderator, seemed interested in ensuring that Tarion actually answered the questions that were asked by audience members. All in all, most agree that this was a waste of time on the part of consumers who took the time, energy and incurred the expense to attend. Several people with whom we spoke said (with disgust) that this is the last Tarion APM they will attend.

    Now, we will see if Tarion follows through on the moderator’s commitment to provide a transcript of Tarion’s responses to questions asked. CPBH’s request has already been made to Mr. Bogach, the Tarion CEO, as well as to the moderator for two responses provided by Tarion reps. We also have a request in for a transcript of something that the moderator himself said, as some feel that the moderator overstepped his role, and inappropriately offered his own response to a question asked of Tarion.

    Low attendance at future Tarion APMs should clearly not be interpreted as satisfaction with Tarion’s performance. But we fully expect that this is how Tarion and the Liberals will spin it.

    With each passing day, the need for Bill 60, the Tarion Oversight and Accountability Act, is more urgent. Events like this help to drive this message home.

    • nicole lalonde

      ” Low attendance at future Tarion APMs should clearly not be interpreted as satisfaction with Tarion’s performance.” so true.CPBH … When we received the notice of APM in 2014, our response was : you are a deceitful bunch !! get us off your list.. as we read the following EXTRACT FROM Tarion Annual Public Meeting April 21, 2011 page 6
      The third Tarion Annual Public Meeting took place on Thursday, April 21, 2011 at the North York Novotel Hotel.The meeting commenced at 6:00 p.m. With Howard Bogach introducing the Chair of the Board of Directors, Harry Herskowitz.

      Q. Does Tarion react to health and issues faster than other types of issues?
      A. Warranty issues that are within the control of the builder and represent an imminent and substantial health and safety risk are considered an emergency under the Tarion rules. As The Homeowner Information Package describes, there is a process whereby they are dealt with faster than normal issues submitted on the 30‐Day and Year‐End Forms.

      so contrary to fact …. our claim has still not been resolved to satisfaction …in 2015 –perhaps this evidence of improvements in homeowner protection
      that Tarion has effected ….

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