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Ethical Dilemmas: Mandatory ORWP – an exercise of responsibility or power? Do benefits outweigh rights?

Like many of us in Canadian real estate, I have been watching the conversation around the Ontario Realtor Wellness Program (ORWP) in REM. By now, we are all aware of the recent court case challenging the ORWP. The plaintiffs are alleging human rights violations including, among others, age discrimination for those who have to pay the same as everyone else but receive lower benefits, and inferior coverage for those who have spousal or other benefits.

To date, leadership at OREA has held firm on the mandatory nature of the plan. So, today, I would like to reflect on the arguments being made on both sides from the standpoint of ethics.


Mixed sentiments


In a previous REM article, many claims were made in the comments section including such arguments as the detractors are “a fringe minority”, “they [OREA] are just lining their pockets”, and my personal favorite, “it was a democratic process so if you don’t like it, leave”. There was also an open letter to the editor extolling the virtues of the program. 

I would like to address the letter and the comments before making my main argument as to the correctness of the decision. The letter writer made some very good points about how the program benefitted her, and having been a realtor most of my life, I certainly empathize. That said, the fact that something is good for me is not an argument to make it mandatory for someone else.


“The will of the majority, with respect for the rights of the minority”


Regarding the comments made, I would like to deal with the last one first. “It was a democratic process so if you don’t like it, leave” is perhaps the most undemocratic statement I’ve heard in a long time. How often do we hear democracy described as “the will of the majority”? For some inexplicable reason (inexplicable because I hated social studies), I have always remembered the words of my high school social studies teacher, Miss Mondea: “Democracy is the will of the majority, with respect for the rights of the minority.”

Backing up her statement, in Democracy in America, one of the most influential books of all time on government, Alexis de Tocqueville warned us about the tyranny of the majority. I am not claiming that anyone is acting as a tyrant, but I am simply saying that when we are in the majority, ethics demands that we respect the rights of the minority – one day, we will have our turn in the minority.

Now, the first two arguments are called ad hominem arguments, or arguments against the person. These are essentially non-arguments. The detractors may or may not be a fringe minority and OREA may or may not be lining its pockets, but even if both were true (which they are almost certainly not) they have no bearing on whether or not the policy is good.

Only the relative merits or demerits of any position are what matters. Only arguments that speak to the issue are valid. And, on that note, I would like to address the policy strictly on its apparent merits and demerits.


Leadership is responsibility


I must first address the issue of management responsibility. Here, I’m reminded of when Robert Joss became dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he received an organizational chart showing him, the dean, at the bottom below staff, faculty and students. The message was clear: being the leader isn’t about power – it’s about responsibility and you are responsible to all of these people.

Perhaps the greatest management guru to have ever lived, Peter Drucker, said it best: “Leadership is responsibility.” FULL STOP.


The big question


Here’s the question, then: is making the OREA benefits package mandatory for all members an appropriate exercise of responsibility or an exercise of power? 

If the evidence shows it to be a wise exercise of responsibility, then it is justifiable. But, if it proves to be an exercise of power, it’s questionable. So, let’s examine the pros and cons of the mandatory policy.


Arguments for and against


From all I’ve read, the only argument for making the policy mandatory is it will lower costs for all members.

On the flip side, the arguments against a mandatory plan are that some members

  • Already have their own plan which they prefer,
  • Have spouses with their own plans,
  • Have plans that are apparently superior to the OREA plan, or
  • Just don’t want the plan.

We need to ask if the difference in cost for the members who want the plan outweighs the rights of those who don’t.


And this is where I am going to leave the discussion to you, as I do not know the answer.

It’s up to you, all 96,000 members, managers and directors of OREA to look at both sides of the issue. What is best for all members of OREA? What is the best policy for everyone? A good ethical decision is not what we have a right to do, it is what is the right thing to do.