Good Consumer Policy Needs to Include Consumers at the Table

Each year since 2011 I’ve attended Tarion’s Annual Public Meeting.

What is Tarion? It’s a government agency originally set up in 1976 to protect new home buyers.

Each year I ask this question at the Annual Meeting: why are there no consumer advocates on your board of directors?

Each year, a variation of the same vague non-answer is given, talking about a “matrix of skills”, and ministerial appointees.

Who’s representing the perspective of new home buyers who’ve found their homes fraught with construction defects, such as leaking basements, flooding, mould, radon, and inadequate heating? This is a living nightmare for anyone, families with small children, seniors, or those with health issues.

Who’s on Tarion’s board?

After having to click through eleven separate links to read each board member’s lengthy biography, we see the board is composed of:

-a banking and insurance executive as Chair, an accountant, a lawyer, a commercial real estate executive, another lawyer with a government relations background, the head of a building company, a real estate consultant, a technology specialist, a communications executive and former head of a Conservative private club, an executive of the builder Tridel, a former builder lobbyist, and a former politician and lawyer.

Great. But who represents the new home buyer’s perspective? Who speaks for consumers who paid over $1.2 million for a newly-built home, and find themselves with a cracked and leaking basement floor, inadequate heating, and black mould?

How many of these executives have spent one night in a house like that, after forking over their entire life savings for it?

Even if we look at the people running the day to day operations, the “Leadership Team” of Tarion, we see no consumer advocates.

There again you have to have click through twelve additional links to see the background of these executives. Why the cumbersome hide and seek of separate links? Why not post two sentences summarizing each person’s expertise below each smiling photo inviting us to call them by their first names?

We see the team is composed of the CEO who’s a former long-time Tarion in-house lawyer, then two more former Tarion lawyers, three accountants, two corporate governance professionals, two information technology specialists, another former real estate lawyer, and a business planner.

Has anyone in this group ever spent their life savings on a new home with construction defects? I see none.

Why are there no engineers, or building technologists, independent from industry lobby groups or builders?

Some highly qualified engineers, and an executive of a top home warranty provider told me they never even got to the interview stage with their Tarion applications, some never even heard back at all.

There seems to be a deliberate attempt in board selection to steer clear of anyone who could make Tarion a true a consumer protection agency, help consumers get their homes fixed, and hold builders accountable for badly-built homes.

The issues which come up for the board and leadership team’s consideration aren’t properly informed by the consumer perspective. They’re seen through the lens of the people I’ve listed above, builders, lawyers, accountants, technology specialists, and business planners.

How can issues of importance to consumers be properly heard or understood?

This seems a deliberate plan to keep consumer concerns about badly-built homes at a distance. If you don’t fully understand the problems, you’re not likely to have to address them either. A gift to shoddy builders.

No wonder a policy such as homeowners not being allowed to record inspections in their own homes has remained on the Tarion books for so long. It has to be there to protect Tarion’s employees, we’re told.

Complaints about the internal ombudsperson not being independent or impartial, are largely ignored. Move on, case closed, Tarion will not be answering any more of your emails.

Some former Tarion board members and ministry officials have said consumers are often seen as “difficult” and “angry”, so they’re side-lined. Statements like this are not only wrong, but condescending to new home buyers, the main stakeholders Tarion was created to protect.

Why don’t the board members attend the Annual Public Meetings, or even attend via the virtual option? Last year, questions for the VP Finance couldn’t be answered because he wasn’t there, only provided a video, and there was no sign or mention at all of the internal ombudsperson. What does that say about the willingness of these executives to listen to the people they say they represent?

Why are consumers forbidden to contact board members, except via the corporate secretary, with many inquiries never answered? There should be at least an email contact address for the board Chair.

Tarion has never made a credible case it’s a consumer protection agency. Many consumers don’t see the value in it at all.

Government should either end this monopoly “administrator”, and give new home buyers a choice in real warranty providers, (as recommended in the 2017 Tarion Review), or make Tarion’s mandatory fees optional. At a very minimum, put a majority of independent consumer advocates on the board.

“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. (C.G.Jung)




Filed under Consumers' Reform, Tarion

3 responses to “Good Consumer Policy Needs to Include Consumers at the Table

  1. Barbara, you raise some interesting points. Many people who design boards – say at government level – think that a corporate board is like a jury and should pick people at random, hopefully ones that go along and get along – raise no hackles or concerns. They could be members of the same circles – social or professional – to assure conformity of thought. They don’t understand that a governance board is to supervise management, to be more than simply a rubber stamp for whatever management gives them. A governance board should never be a book club, replete with interesting discussion but no oversight.
    Warren Buffett made an interesting comment at his AGM back in 2019. He never wanted cocker spaniels on boards, he wanted pit bulls. He wanted someone to fight for the shareholders and not one to act in self interest.
    Too many boards have poodles – if not cocker spaniels – smart and bright but no attention paid to purpose or oversight.
    The job of board members is to look after the corporation, knowing the interests of all stakeholders, that includes consumers as well as home builders?
    That begs the question – are the interests of consumers, the most important stakeholder as that provides the rational for Tarion’s existence, well served? If not, is the only recourse to wait another 4 or so years and elect another government?
    Does Tarion have a closed membership, whereby only the Board are members and so they basically perpetuate themselves (sort of like cloning).
    Here is an idea! What about having all new homeowners be members of Tarion who could then vote in a Board. Homebuilders – an individual – could also be members. Better accountability?

    • Thanks Alex, for these thoughtful comments.
      Tarion doesn’t have “members” as far as I know. Every new homebuyer is obliged to pay them a fee (passed on in the purchase price by the builder).

      Tarion is governed by legislation, and I don’t think the legislation allows for members. The purpose is consumer protection, and there’s nothing there which says Tarion is to be protecting builders. They are a stakeholder, but this is meant to be consumer protection legislation.
      The complete absence of consumer advocates (by that I don’t mean consumers picked at random) is so wrong.

  2. Jeffrey Ferland

    The lack of consumer advocates on the board is pretty telling about what this government created monopoly is all about. It is about protecting itself first and its interests. There are many obvious things that can be done to try and improve the current system. Allowing Tarion to stay as a non-profit provider in a competitive system is one. This I believe is what was recommended in the Tarion Review. What is the harm in making this change? Thank you for continuing to document the ongoing issues with Tarion and the current system. I have to believe and hope that there will be some changes for the better moving forward.

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