As consultations in the Tarion review kicked off in Toronto last week, the former trial judge commissioned to independently examine the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act and the corporation that administers it said that he has assured those who have expressed concerns that he has “no marching orders.” In an interview April 13, in between industry and public consultation sessions, Justice J. Douglas Cunningham told CondoBusiness that he would not have accepted the assignment if it came with constraints.
“I can look at every aspect of Tarion, from the governance issues, to the structure, to the day-to-day operations, and make recommendations accordingly,” said Justice Cunningham. “What I recommend may or may not be accepted by the government, but that’s not for me to be concerned about.”
In his interview with CondoBusiness, Justice Cunningham identified accountability, communication and dispute resolution as some of the key issues on his radar. He also said he intends to consider the big questions, such as whether new home warranties should be delivered by the private sector, as occurs in some other jurisdictions, and whether Tarion’s regulator and warranty provider functions should be broken up.
Focus groups occurred in the two weeks leading up to the industry and public consultations, including one that brought together condo board members as well as engineering, legal and property management professionals. Some of the views that Justice Cunningham said were expressed to him there were that condo conversions aren’t covered but they should be, that deposits were being released too soon and that the warranty period should be extended.
Six professionals, representing a mix of homebuilding, engineering and legal voices, participated in the industry/organization consultation in Toronto on April 13. Some of the challenges they highlighted included that the Tarion process is confusing for consumers and that decisions about what is and isn’t a warrantable item are inconsistent.
Of the public consultations to follow, Justice Cunningham said he anticipated that he would hear from consumers who have interacted with Tarion.
“That’s good because I think from those individual experiences we can learn how the system operates, and obviously some of these people are very unhappy about how they’ve been treated,” he said. “I’ll hear them.”
However, the Canadians for Properly Built Homes, who have met with Justice Cunningham, remain concerned about the way consumer input is being collected. In an April 14 email to Justice Cunningham, Karen Somerville, president of the non-profit organization, raised alarm about the turnout of only a handful of consumers for the public consultations in Toronto.
“Toronto is a key location, with considerable shoddy construction and many problems with Tarion reported in the media for the past few years now,” she wrote. “The room should have been overflowing with consumers.”
She renewed earlier calls by the Canadians for Properly Built Homes for Justice Cunningham to confidentially survey consumers, obtain appropriately redacted copies of relevant consumer correspondence to the ministry over the last decade and offer at least a limited number of one-on-one meetings to consumers.
In the April 13 interview, Justice Cunningham said that he’s unable to meet with every unhappy home buyer. He explained that he has tried to meet one-on-one with people who aren’t just sharing individual situations, but who may have gone through a personal experience with Tarion and now also represent other consumers.
“Look, there are some people out there who, no matter what I do, or no matter what Tarion does, or what anybody does, are never going to be completely satisfied with the process, and I understand that,” he said, “but I’m going to strive to make recommendations that will make whatever it is I recommend in terms of Tarion a better organization, a fairer organization and an organization that is perhaps a bit more transparent than what we have now.”
Justice Cunningham said that he is still in a fact-finding phase and couldn’t speak to what that might look like. He was originally scheduled to finalize his report with recommendations to Minister of Government and Consumers Services David Orazietti before June 30 but now expects to so in the fall.
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.