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As many members are aware, despite changes to the Ontario Consumer Protection Act made only a couple of years ago, a small number of companies continue to employ the questionable practice of door-to-door sales tactics, with the range of products now extending beyond water heaters to include furnaces, central AC systems and water treatment devices.  One company (Ontario Energy Group) was charged in April with 142 offences under the Consumer Protection Act, but many consumer and seniors groups/representatives believe that the government is not acting strongly enough and the media have played up some of the more shocking and offensive incidents to the point where many in government believe the practice is commonplace. A news story on CTV’s W5 on October 1st further highlighted the problem, which has now extended well beyond Ontario into Manitoba and Alberta.

Earlier in 2016, Liberal back-bencher Yvan Baker responded to the groundswell of concern by introducing Bill 193, the Door-to-Door Sales Prohibition Act.  According to Baker, the bill was drafted as a means for addressing complaints he was hearing from far too many of his constituents in Etobicoke Centre, particularly seniors, about being duped into a dubious purchase.  The bill goes after specific products – “air conditioners, water heaters, furnaces, water treatment devices” – but also adds “any other prescribed product” and gives the Minister the right to add other products as necessary.

Though well intended, it became clear upon review of the bill that it would go much further than a simple ban on door-to-door sales.  Instead it would ban all contracts signed in homes, whether or not they were initiated at the door, including even those that are based on a customer calling in a contractor.  This would obviously constrain significantly the typical and legitimate sales process used by HVAC (and other) contractors, forcing contracts to be signed at the “retail location”.  Any contract signed in the home would be deemed to be void and penalties for contravening the law would range from $500 to $2,000 for individual salespersons and $5,000 to $25,000 for companies that employ them.

After meeting with MPP Baker on several occasions and explaining the real implications of his bill, it became evident that he could not or would not see the problem and he refused to budge from his original position.  He invited industry to come up with alternative solutions and promised further dialogue at some time in the fall.  HRAI followed up with a letter accepting the challenge but re-iterating its opposition to the bill as written.

The problem appeared to be solved when Premier Kathleen Wynne prorogued the legislature on September 1st, essentially resetting the government’s priorities and wiping out any proposed legislation that had not passed third reading.  Bill 193 was officially dead.

The reprieve, however, was short-lived.  On September 15th, MPP Baker re-introduced his proposed legislation as Bill 14.  The wording of the bill was identical to its predecessor, which runs contrary to Mr. Baker’s commitment to work with industry to find better alternatives.  No consultation occurred between the death of Bill 193 and the birth of Bill 14.  HRAI responded with a sharply worded letter to Mr. Baker asking him to withdraw the legislation.

At the same time, HRAI sought a meeting with senior staff at the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, to let them know industry’s concerns both about the legislation and about the issue which the legislation was supposed to address.

In a meeting with Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) Frank Denton on October 3rd, HRAI and CWQA were advised that a solution to the problem may be in hand.  He pointed to the September 23rd“Mandate Letter” from the Premier to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services (mandate letters provide marching orders to ministers on top priorities to act on during the next legislative session).  Among other instructions is a directive to “expand protections to help consumers deal with unscrupulous door-to-door salespeople trying to sell home appliances.”

What this means is that the Ministry will be compelled to introduce either legislation or some form of program spending to address the door-to-door problem independently of Mr. Baker’s initiative.  ADM Denton advised that, in this context, Bill 14 would probably just die a natural death in committee, set aside in favour of a solution devised by the Ministry.

This is encouraging news.  Though Bill 14 is not officially dead, and HRAI might still have to mobilize opposition if it makes Second Reading in the legislature, it clearly does not have the support of the government.  HRAI will be writing directly to Minister Lalonde in the next week to offer assistance in identifying a more targeted and lasting solution to the problem of door-to-door selling.  Members will be engaged in the process to identify the solution(s).

For more information, contact Martin Luymes at 1-800-267-2231 ext. 235 or email mluymes@hrai.ca.