A Road to Nowhere: Premier Wynne’s faulty bill 166

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The Liberal government’s Bill 166, the “Strengthening Protection for Ontario Consumer’s Act” unfortunately adds to a decade of broken promises on new home buyer protection in Ontario.

The bill received zero support from any of the Opposition parties when it was pushed through the Legislature in December 2017 by the Liberal majority. It was extensively critiqued for months by Opposition MPPs, the Ministry Critics and consumer advocates. It doesn’t fix the decades of problems consumers have had with dispute resolution, conflicts of interest, and lack of transparency of this government monopoly, Tarion.

In December 2016 Premier Wynne was given a clear road-map for solving these problems: the Tarion review conducted by justice Cunningham after a year of research and consultation, costing the taxpayer $750,000.

But without explanation which the public deserved, Wynne decided to ignore most of the judge’s 37 recommendations, siding with industry and Tarion interests.

Leading up to the bill, her government put together a consultation group skewed toward the building industry and Tarion, and limited the scope of discussions to favour a pre-determined outcome which ignored most of the judge’s recommendations. I was asked as the only consumer advocate to volunteer to participate in this consultation. I voiced clear objections to the lack of consumer input and the limited scope of discussions.  To no avail.

Bill 166 leaves Tarion largely intact. It does not include consumer advocates on Tarion’s board, (don’t dare touch our builder board members!, warned the builder lobbyists), and it gives builders their own regulator, with minimal independent oversight.

The most frustrating issue for consumers over the years has been dispute resolution. This bill does nothing to fix that, and may even make things worse.

Here’s why:

– The existing dispute resolution process is not transparent or balanced and seems to favour Tarion’s and the builder’s interests. There is no clear procedure or transparency in the claims process, or reliable builder track record.

– The License Appeal Tribunal is maintained as the forum for dispute resolution. But consumers can’t afford experienced lawyers, and Tarion and builders always use lawyers to fight claims.

– Making the internal ombudsperson mandatory is no help. This office has existed at Tarion since 2009, and doesn’t get involved in dispute resolution. So what good is it? A time-waster and source of extreme frustration for anyone who’s had experience with it. This is one of the red herrings in the bill, giving consumers the impression something is being improved, while it is not.

– Bill 166 provides for oversight of Tarion by the Auditor-General, but this is insufficient. The Liberals refused to include oversight by the Ombudsman of Ontario or applicability of Freedom of Information Act in the bill. Without explanation. Who will oversee whether claims are handled fairly, or have been improperly dismissed or inadequately compensated, and who will assure these are listed on the builder’s track record?

– The “AA” model which Tarion falls under, an “Administrative Authority”, has far too weak oversight. Responsibility for consumer protection is a government responsibility, but it’s being out-sourced to arms-length agencies. Why would anyone be in favour of less transparency and accountability? Monopolies enjoy their monopoly power, government likes to avoid liability, and industries like to control their industries. But who’s protecting the consumer?

– Bill 166 says consumers won’t have to prove the underlying cause of defects in their new homes. But Tarion and builders certainly will have this proof, with the legal and technical resources they have. This is like sending the consumer into the battlefield with no ammunition. Imagine the consumer saying my basement is leaking, and Tarion and the builder saying that’s normal, here’s the technical report which proves it. End of story. How does this make the process more balanced and fair?

Tarion is still telling consumers they can go the LAT (License Appeal Tribunal) to have disputes resolved, while omitting to say consumers lose 90% of these cases. Tarion’s CEO says this is an informal consumer-friendly forum, while consumers say its like sending them to the slaughterhouse, financially and emotionally. The taxpayer also subsidizes Tarion’s dispute resolution by funding the court system.  This is unfair and unnecessary, given the $400+ million Tarion has in its coffers.

Premier Wynne has been asked these questions at her townhall meetings within the last few months. She says she’s recognized the problems and fixed them. No one is fooled by this. Asked why no one voted for bill 166, except her own party, she clearly sensed a danger zone, and diverted to a softball question from a young person who asked about getting into politics. (Brampton townhall, Dec. 13, 2017).

It seems the Wynne government thought they could fool us with this fake “consumer protection” bill.

Bill 166 should be repealed and replaced by the party who wins the up-coming provincial election in June 2018. Consultations should be re-done to include a meaningful balance of consumers and a full discussion of the 37 recommendations of the judge’s Tarion review.

As a political insider said last month, this bill is a nothing burger.

A half-baked one at that.

#RepealReplaceBill166 

#EndTarionMonopolyNow

 

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