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ORWP special general meeting: The issues, the vote, the next steps from here

Voting at a special general meeting (SGM) on November 29 that could have axed the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA)’s contentious pending insurance plan for all realtors in the province wound up determining that the program will go ahead as planned.

It’s a blow — although not an unexpected one — for the significant percentage of dissenting member boards across the province up in arms about the mandatory aspect of the plan, including those who’d banded together to pressure OREA into having the requisitioned meeting around the Ontario Realtor Wellness Program (ORWP).

“The motions that would have ended the ORWP were defeated 73 to 59 with 29 abstaining,” states Tim Hudak, CEO of OREA. “This year, member boards have twice voted in favour of the ORWP, and (the latest) result means we will continue to move forward with bringing the ORWP to all members on January 1, 2024 … We remain committed to keeping members informed.”

 

Concerned boards’ objective not to derail program

 

OREA insists that there’s no possibility of making the ORWP optional. The association made it clear in advance of the SGM that the program would be terminated if voting went against it. The concerned boards maintain that their objective has never been to completely derail the program though — it’s recognized by all involved that many realtors in the province would benefit from the safety net it provides.

The main issue all along has been that the plan will be mandatory as well as a condition of OREA membership, even for those who already have insurance, or who will receive little or no benefit from the ORWP due to other factors. 

 

TRREB carries nearly half the votes and say

 

Being the largest board in the province by far, the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) has almost half the votes in the assembly of Ontario boards, making it tough to beat. The TRREB voting delegation, on balance, has been in favour of the ORWP. This is why the boards that hoped the SGM would spark change and greater accommodation weren’t surprised not to have their objectives approved, despite widespread support. 

“We needed to ensure that we followed the correct governance procedures before considering any other actions,” explains Bill Duce, CEO of the Waterloo Region Association of Realtors (WRAR), which was among the boards requesting the SGM. “Our members have been very vocal that the majority are not interested in this program for a variety of legitimate reasons … We believe they should have a choice.”

 

What now?

 

With the bylaw options now pretty much exhausted, any next steps for dissenting boards would be in uncharted territory. “What now?” is the million-dollar question, Duce asserts. “No doubt there will be some deep discussions about where we go from here.” 

Says David Puddy, president of the Simcoe & District Real Estate Board: “Some boards may decide not to participate and may withdraw from OREA. That is a long and complicated process that would not be taken lightly.”

There may be a large number of older realtors “who retire rather than be forced into a plan that has reduced benefits after the age of 65 but still requires full payment,” Puddy continues. 

In his view, “The value of OREA and the confidence of the members in its leadership will be severely questioned.” He notes, “There has been a strong voice from a very vocal portion of the membership saying that the ORWP needs to be revised with particular focus on the mandatory part of the program. That voice has been largely ignored by OREA.”      

Across the province, various boards are amalgamating, hoping to gain a stronger voice by leveraging dynamics of scale. In some cases, the ORWP has been cited as a provoking factor. 

 

OREA denies not accommodating members

 

OREA maintains that the program needs to be mandatory to keep premium costs low. But the association denies accusations that it’s not accommodating members.

In a statement to REM, Hudak notes, “We have worked with our program administrator, Comprehensive Benefits Solutions (CBS), to develop a process in an effort to ensure no member is left behind and everyone can derive some benefit from this program. If a member has existing coverage and is worried about the ORWP’s potential impact, they can share the details of their provider’s current policy with CBS and their team will review the situation carefully and with complete confidentiality in an effort to propose a suitable accommodation. 

To be clear, members will still be required to pay their full OREA dues, but enrollment in the impacted benefit will be removed so they don’t lose their other coverage. In addition, we continue to work closely with member boards to ensure that they are fully prepared for the implementation of the program by providing transitional funding and extending implementation deadlines for data upload.”

 

Pre-SGM survey

 

To get more feedback on the ORWP from members, before the SGM a contingent of eight Ontario boards partnered together to conduct a survey, via strategic management consultants Framework Analytics. 

The boards are:

  • Waterloo Region Association of Realtors
  • Simcoe & District Real Estate Board
  • Barrie & District Association of Realtors
  • Niagara Association of Realtors
  • Woodstock Ingersoll Tillsonburg & Area Association of Realtors
  • The Lakelands Association of Realtors
  • Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington
  • London St. Thomas Association of Realtors

 

In every case, a majority of members indicated that they don’t support the program. Aggregated results from across the eight boards showed 22 per cent in favour of the ORWP and 63 per cent opposed (with the remainder undecided or “other”). Results also suggested that most members would be in favour of the ORWP if it wasn’t mandatory.   

TRREB conducted its own member survey in advance of the SGM as well. It indicated that the number of respondents who support the program coming into effect on a mandatory basis and those who don’t is virtually equal (39.6 per cent and 39.5 per cent respectively).  

In answer to a similar question, “Should TRREB endorse the program and adopt it as a member benefit?”, more members responded no than yes (35.8 per cent and 31.6 per cent respectively).   

Reasons given by those in favour of the ORWP included good value and affordability. The top complaint of those against it was the mandatory aspect — no surprise there — followed by not wanting the coverage due to having existing insurance. The TRREB results also revealed that over 42 per cent of those surveyed were not familiar with the program.

Rather puzzling results. It’s anyone’s guess how the TRREB delegates split their votes at the SGM under the circumstances.

 

Duce, CEO of WRAR, concludes: “I would suggest that OREA has been working diligently to try to deliver this program by January 1. But, this is also new ground for them and it’s evident they are trying to build the plane while it’s flying. They have not been provided nearly sufficient time to implement a program of this scope. Despite what happened at the vote, there will still be a few chapters that need to be played out.”

 

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