As I sat last week at the event where Minister MacCharles was scheduled to announce the results of Justice Cunningham’s review of Tarion, I said to myself, “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
The room was full of building and real estate executives, Tarion senior executives and board members, and ministry staff.
Many consumers have been working hard for years to get their voices heard on consumer protection issues regarding Tarion and the new home buying experience in Ontario. Tarion has operated under the same legislation for over 40 years as both building regulator and sole warranty provider, as an arms-length agency of government administering the “Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act” (ONHWPA).
This event was a chance to hear the results of the review of Tarion by Justice Cunningham, which the government commissioned in Nov. 2015.
As the speech began, I prepared myself for the same-old, same-old “working with Tarion” mantra we’ve heard for years.
I was wrong.
The minister, the Honourable Tracy MacCharles, announced many long-awaited and much-needed reforms to Tarion, based on the judge’s report. She clearly stated that modern transparency and accountability measures are needed at Tarion; she said if the government were creating Tarion today they would have put these measures in place, and would not have combined the building regulator and sole warranty provider in one entity.
This was welcome news to consumers. Finally on these two major issues consumers have been understood and taken seriously.
And there was more. Much more.
By this time the hot meal on the table had gone cold, and I’d been live-Tweeting to our followers (@ReformTarion), telling them change is on the way.
The minister announced the government’s plans to bring a bill to the Legislature this fall to incorporate many of Justice Cunningham’s recommendations (37 of them in total). A breath of fresh air for consumers.
The judge recommended a multi-provider, competitive model, as in now in effect in other Canadian provinces. The minister said she wouldn’t go forward with that particular step at this point, but would go forward with many of the others.
Many consumers favour choice and multiple warranty providers, as the judge recommended. Accountability and transparency can be enhanced by competition in this field.
The review has cost the taxpayer about $750,000 so far. It would seem to be value-for-money for taxpayers if the government took the judge’s recommendations, all of them, and made the changes he recommended after this year-long review and thorough consultation.
A respected and seasoned judge has reviewed the complex problems festering away for years on Tarion, and has made his decision in writing to the government. There’s no turning back now. He’s clearly said: (pg. 1, letter to the minister): “… this framework has given rise to real and perceived conflicts of interest and has presented it (Tarion) with challenges in fulfilling its multiple roles.”
The judge’s review put wind in the sails of our consumer advocacy work. Many ordinary consumers have donated their time, efforts, and experience to help bring about these positive new developments. This is a political problem, as we’ve said for years, and can only be fixed by our political representatives at Queen’s Park.
Let your MPP know you support these recommendations (summarized below) for transparency and consumer protection in the most important investment of your life, a new home.
Here are some of the judge’s key recommendations:
(The final review is on the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services website (under Tarion) http://www.ontario.ca)
Some highlights of the judge’s recommendations:
i) New home warranty should be provided through a competitive model, multiple providers. (Recommendation #1)
ii) A new not-for-profit corporation should assume existing home enrollments and participate in the new multi-provider model (#4)
iii) A separate entity should regulate builders (#5)
iv) The regulator should be subject to accountability and transparency oversight requirements (#7)
v) The new legislation should provide more compliance and enforcement framework for the building regulator (# 11)
vi) Current Tarion “Builder Directory” should be more transparent, accessible to consumers (#6)
vii) Homeowners should have access to neutral and independent dispute resolution by a body separate from the warranty provider (#9)
viii) Homeowners must only prove “credible symptoms” of the defect, not the cause of the defect (#25)
ix) The use of experts should be clearly defined by each warranty provider; an adjudicator may also hire an expert (# 26)
x) Adjudication of disputes must be “accessible, affordable, timely” with “attention to the needs of self-represented homeowners.” (# 27)
xi) Government should have final approval of rule-making on warranty protection and builder standards for registration. (#28)
xii) An immediate review of current deposit protection rules is advised. ( #31)
xiii) All new homes, even if owner-built for personal occupation, should have warranty protection (#35)
These are only some of the 37 recommendations the judge made in his review.
Please help us take these recommendations to the next step. Many can be introduced without the need for new legislation, according to the report.
Please write or Tweet your provincial MPP, or minister MacCharles at firstname.lastname@example.org Tell your Queen’s Park representatives what you think. Now is the time to make sure the consumer voice, which Justice Cunningham highlighted in his review, continues to be heard and understood in the drafting of new legislation.
If your MPP has ignored your concerns on Tarion to date, a new door has been opened now for them to listen. The current government, according to minister MacCharles, is in favour of significant change. The Liberal party has a majority in government, so it can pass new legislation more easily.
“Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.”* We need to get on this one.
*quotation by Charles Barkley.
Photo of the author (left) with minister MacCharles (right)