When I took my new car to be fixed years ago, after it had been leaking oil, I asked the mechanic why a new car would leak oil. You don’t need to know, he answered, just get it done.
That didn’t sit well with me back then. Neither does Doug Ford’s refusal to release certain information I’d like to have before voting. Information is power, and less information raises doubt.
As a consumer advocate for the last 14 years for new home buyers, I’m struggling to see a reason to vote for Mr. Ford, and part of my concern is his growing secrecy. Secrecy in keeping the monopoly model for Tarion after saying the government shouldn’t be running monopolies, secrecy in not releasing his instructions to each minister (the “Mandate Letters”), secrecy in not responding to voter questions, especially about a local candidate’s affiliations with the building industry.
The build-more-faster-with-less-red-tape platform of the PC party has come across loud and clear to us, but there are several missing links. Increasing the supply of a product usually results in lower prices, that’s basic economics. But with rising costs of materials and labour in home building, and the scarcity of both, what makes these 1 million new homes, IF they can be built, suddenly affordable?
How does building homes faster make them properly built? With virtual inspections and talk of builders doing their own inspections, how will buyers be protected against the growing problem of short-cutting and shoddy work?
Then there’s the broader context of the weak warranty administrator, Tarion, and an even weaker fledgling regulator, HCRA (the Home Construction Regulatory Authority). Without adequate scrutiny and oversight of the industry, how can buyers be protected from bad builders, and avoid shouldering the cost of poorly-built homes?
I’ve been waiting for Ford to utter the words consumer protection during the campaign trail. I’ve not heard him speak these words even once, nor have his candidates, to my knowledge. Gone is the For The People slogan of 2018, with promises to consumers of “I will fight for people like you.” The construction unions have his ear now.
That makes me more skeptical. Any time we’ve had a government with cozy ties to big industry, it hasn’t resulted in better consumer protection. I don’t hear PC candidates mention anything about building properly, adhering to Building Code, or who’s going to take the cut to make homes more affordable. How can you build faster, with shortages of skilled labour, without further compromising quality and safety?
Ford promised a “complete overhaul” of the warranty administrator Tarion in 2019, but hasn’t done this. He’s promised to cut red tape for builders, while consumers want the opposite, strong regulators to protect them from bad builders. We don’t want virtual inspections or builders doing their own inspections. Cutting red tape for builders doesn’t protect consumers.
What’s in the “Mandate Letters”, Ford’s instructions given to the Consumer Minister about these issues? We’re not allowed to know. Ford has refused to release them. “It’s so important to protect the builders,” said the current Consumer Minister earlier this year. Really? But this ministry is responsible for consumer protection, not builder protection. What’s in Ford’s official instructions, still secret, to this ministry?
There have been four Consumer Ministers in four years, a revolving door which doesn’t do much to encourage credibility or confidence. Tarion has been declared broken, then apparently overhauled, but we’ve seen not much more in four years than a repositioning of the deck chairs.
In my mailbox this week I found a flyer from the Ford campaign, saying “Only Doug Ford and Blake Libfeld will Get it Done”. Say “YES to building houses you can afford.” Is Mr. Libfeld associated with the Libfeld family of developers, or the Tarion board member? No answer. Some things you just don’t need to know, it seems.
Ford may Get it Done. But we may end up paying for “it”, in more ways than one.