By: SHANE DINGMAN -
The majority of Ontario’s Condominium Authority board has resigned en masse in a move connected to accusations of an alleged conflict of interest issue with at least one member.
“This was an extremely difficult decision and I assure you it was not made lightly,” wrote former director Tom Wright, in a resignation letter earlier this month. “At this time, the level of collegiality and degree of trust that is so important to the success of any board and ultimately any organization has been in free fall.”
Mr. Wright did not identify the source of the tension and declined to answer follow-up questions about his letter.
On April 8, the CAO published its own statement about the changes: “Due to recent conflict of interest and governance concerns the CAO's Chair had suggested that one of the Board's elected members consider stepping down. A Board meeting was scheduled today to establish a process for reviewing those matters. Vice-Chair Frank D'Onofrio and Board Directors Tom Wright, Armand Conant and Genevieve Chornenki stepped down from their elected terms. The resignations were accepted and are effective immediately.”
The four members of the seven-member board that resigned were some of the founding members, their tenure dating back to the 2017 creation of the organization. The three remaining board members – board chair Heather Zordel (a partner in law firm Gardiner Roberts LLP), corporate secretary Margaret Samuels (a financial analyst and president of Enriched Investing Inc.) and treasurer Judy Sue (a CPA and President of condo fraud specialists Eagle Audit Advantage Inc.) – were all recently appointed by the provincial government beginning in September, 2019.
After the initial release was published and shared with newswire services, it appears an effort was made to pull back the document. The link to the document on the CAO website now requires a password to access it, and the Canada Newswire web page that hosted a copy of the release has been deleted. Ms. Zordel did not respond to attempts to contact her, and the Condominium Authority staff also did not respond to questions about the news release.
The CAO is one of Ontario’s many delegated authority organizations – such as Tarion Home Warranty Corporation and the Technical Standards & Safety Authority – that act as arms-length regulators of Ontario businesses. The CAO was created under the previous Liberal government and given independent power to run the Condominium Authority Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body that adjudicates disputes between individual owners and the condo corporations and developers. It’s not a part of the provincial bureaucracy but is responsible to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services.
“The government is aware of the changes that have taken place on the board of directors of the Condominium Authority of Ontario,” wrote Matteo Giunici, spokesman for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. He declined to answer direct questions about the nature of the alleged conflict of interest, and declined to respond to other questions about the alleged tensions on the board.
The former board members were a mix of seasoned public servants and condominium industry insiders. Frank D’Onofrio was former deputy minister and chief executive officer of Service Ontario, Mr. Wright is the former chief executive officer and registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario, Mr. Conant is one of the leaders of Shibley Righton’s condo law practice, Ms. Chornenki is a mediator.
Mr. Conant and Mr. D’Onfrio did not respond to attempts to contact them, but Ms. Chornenki’s resignation letter claims a shift in the board’s mandate was behind some of the tension on the board.
“Over the past several months, tension about the nature and purpose of the Condominium Authority has also emerged,” she wrote. “The purpose appears to be narrowing in the direction of an advocacy organization for condominium unit owners who are to be primary constituents, rather than the authority remaining a body that serves the broader ecosystem of participants in Ontario’s condominium communities, offering a suite of services and an embedded administrative tribunal.”
Tracey MacCharles, who was minister of government and consumer services when the CAO was set up, said the original mandate of the organization was about helping owners and residents navigate the complexities of condo living. She has been out of government and out of office since April, 2018, and now serves on the board of Consumers Council of Canada. While she said she has no insider knowledge of the CAO situation, "any kind of large scale defection is worrisome. You worry about the stability of the board.”
Opposition critic and NDP MPP Tom Rakocevic said he will be reaching out to the government for more information on what happened. “This is concerning. The Ford government and the ministry need to be transparent about the alleged conflict of interest,” he said. “The CAO should serve condo owners, not lawyers and developers. There needs to be an explanation of what’s happening at the board.”
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