Reprieve likely on draconian door-knocker bill

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By Simon Blake

The Ontario government is planning to expand rules aimed at preventing door-to-door sales people from defrauding home-owners, but the solution may not be as draconian as a private members bill currently before the legislature, the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) reports.

On Sept. 23 a “mandate letter” from Premier Kathleen Wynne to Minister of Government and Consumer Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde instructed the ministry to “expand protections to help consumers deal with unscrupulous door-to-door salespeople trying to sell appliances,” HRAI learned in a meeting with the department’s assistant deputy minister, Frank Denton, on Oct. 3. Mandate letters are basically “marching orders,” reported Martin Luymes, HRAI director of programs and relations. Denton advised HRAI that Bill 14, the latest version of Liberal MPP Yvan Baker’s door-knocker legislation, would likely die at the committee stage, set aside in favour of a ministry solution.

And that is a huge relief for contractors. Baker’s proposed legislation, the Door-to-Door Sales Prohibition Act 2016, went far beyond simply outlawing door-to-door sales, making any contract signed in the home void, regardless of whether the contractor had been invited into the home. It would require the contractor to have a retail location where work orders could be signed.

“In proposing this legislation, Baker is in effect putting our industry out of work,” remarked Luymes at the annual HRAI Contractors Division meeting held in Calgary in August. “You’re asking 4,000 businesses to just go out and start a retail location,” he added. “It creates an enormous inconvenience for consumers just to solve the problem of a handful of companies out selling door to door.”

Bill 14 is the second version of the legislation, which Baker previously introduced as private members Bill 193 earlier this year and which HRAI, along with the Canadian Water Quality Association (CWQA), was already battling. Together, they met with Baker twice. They thought they caught a break when the Ontario government prorogued the Ontario Legislature on Sept. 9 and the bill died. But Baker didn’t waste any time before re-introducing it as Bill 14, which has already passed first reading.

Previous legislation working, says industry

The industry is questioning Baker’s motivation after the government made amendments to Bill 55, the Ontario Consumer Protection Act, that came into effect April 1, 2015 and which seem to be working. The reports of fraudulent sales by door-knockers have dropped and one company, Ontario Energy Group, is facing 142 charges of fraud under the Consumer Protection Act, noted Luymes. “Why not just let Bill 55 do its work and tweak it if necessary?”

He added that Bill 14 is still not officially dead and that the industry may still need to mobilize opposition if it passes second reading in the legislature. As well, HRAI will write to Lalonde to offer advice and solutions on dealing with door-knocker fraud.

While door-knockers have long been a concern for the industry, it’s now becoming apparent that their behavior has stained the industry as a whole in the eyes of the public and politicians.

“Every MPP has an anecdote about someone who has been duped… They characterize this (fraud) as a defining characteristic of our industry,” remarked Luymes. “Solutions are needed but (Bill 14), as currently written, is definitely not the solution.

Baker did not respond to a request for an interview.

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