The Ontario government this week released consultation dates and locations for the Tarion review, following a stretch of silence that, for some, raised questions about the terms of engagement.
Justice J. Douglas Cunningham is scheduled to meet with members of the public and industry stakeholders separately in eight cities across Ontario, starting in Toronto on April 13 and ending in Ottawa on May 31. The ministry of government and consumer services introduced the review on Nov. 5 as a public, independent look at the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act and the corporation that administers it, aimed at identifying opportunities to improve consumer protection.
A government webpage dedicated to the review advertised early 2016 public consultations, with dates and locations to follow. It remained stagnant from Jan. 6 until this week. In the meantime, the webpage provided an email address, TarionReview@ontario.ca, as a way to give feedback to Justice Cunningham as part of the review.
Karen Somerville, president of the Canadians for Properly Built Homes, said that while the non-profit has encouraged consumers to use the provided email address, some have told the non-profit that they will not, citing worries that messages to the Government of Ontario email address would be filtered.
The Tarion review webpage states that all submissions received will be shared with Justice Cunningham in his role as special advisor. A ministry of government and consumer services spokesperson said the email address is a direct line of communication to the reviewer and his team, adding that using an ontario.ca email address is consistent with other government-commissioned independent reviews and is the best way to secure the personal information consumers may be sharing.
Representatives from the Canadians for Properly Built Homes recently requested and got a meeting with Justice Cunningham. Somerville said their goal was to paint the big picture as they see it, highlighting serious problems with shoddy construction in Ontario and the key role of Tarion as industry regulator.
“When we found out that there was this review, we were pleased to hear about it. We think it’s long overdue,” she said. “We’re keen to get a meeting directly with Justice Cunningham to talk about our perspective, what we think needs to happen, and to answer any questions that he may have.”
The Canadians for Properly Built Homes also encouraged Justice Cunningham to schedule some one-on-one meetings with consumers who have concerns about publicly sharing their personal experiences, which the non-profit believes the reviewer needs to hear directly.
“Many of their situations are private,” explained Somerville. “They’re concerned about negatively impacting their property values if they stand up in a public forum and start saying, ‘I’ve got all these building code violations.’”
The ministry spokesperson invited consumers who wished to give input privately to use the provided email address, indicating that time constraints will prevent the reviewer from meeting individually with members of the public.
“The review team heard that some people may be uncomfortable sharing their stories in front of builders, which is why the decision was made to offer separate meetings for the industry and the public,” said the ministry spokesperson.
Industry and public consultations will occur on the same dates, but at different times of day. Builders, consumer advocacy groups, condo boards and associations, as well as engineers, architects and legal professionals, are grouped under “industry/organization” consultations.
Ultimately, the Canadians for Properly Built Homes are hoping to see Ontario end Tarion’s monopoly and have urged Justice Cunningham to weigh whether new home insurance should be mandatory.
However, the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, which is among the industry stakeholders the reviewer is expected to consult with, supports a mandatory warranty program in the province.
In a ministry press release issued at the outset of the review, Justice Cunningham said: “I intend to consult broadly with the public and industry experts on measures that will strengthen Ontario’s new home warranty program.”
The review’s terms of reference set a May 31 deadline for Justice Cunningham’s draft report to Minister of Government and Consumer Services David Orazietti with recommendations. Based on the schedule for consultations, this date is likely to get pushed back.
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.