One of Ontario’s provincial condominium watchdogs said it will tell condominium managers to be impartial when electing their boards of directors after receiving a warning that the characteristics of digital votes on condominiums made popular during the pandemic could compromise their integrity.
Condominium investigator William Stratas says he felt he had to come forward after hearing of cases where condominium managers could use tools in online voting platforms to give advance vote counts to candidates favourites, giving them a tactical advantage.
“I believe these practices have the potential to compromise the confidentiality and fairness of condominium board elections across Ontario,” Stratas wrote in a letter to the Condominium Management Regulatory Authority. of Ontario in December.
“In particular, I raise concerns about this apparent conduct by licensees who have a duty to act as impartial, trusted facilitators – not potential manipulators – of owners’ meetings and board elections. administration,” he wrote.
Digital platforms for voting and condo meetings have exploded during the pandemic as a solution to physical distancing requirements, and also as a way to overcome voter apathy.
There are approximately 900,000 condominium units in Ontario and 11,000 condominium associations – some with multi-million dollar budgets with populations that dwarf small towns. During condominium elections, an owner can vote in advance by completing a proxy form. This process has been digitally replicated by several digital voting platforms.
Stratas said in an interview that he fears a rush to these platforms has overlooked a potential loophole that he believes allows these advanced digital proxy votes to be counted and shared too easily.
If the condo manager shares the vote matches an incumbent, that candidate might campaign differently because of the information, or use their power on the board for other purposes, he said.
“Compare that to a scenario where Elections Canada walks into the polls at an advance poll, counts those results before Election Day, and reports them to the ruling party. This is a scandal of epic proportions,” Stratas said.
Angel Reiner of property management company Onyx Group told CTV News Toronto that she received a request from an outgoing member of the board of one of her properties asking to see early counts mid-election .
“We asked a board member to have the election results before the meeting,” she said. “He wanted one individual in particular not to be successful in his candidacy. I sat down with my team and said, “We don’t do that, do we”? They said, ‘Absolutely not.’
A candidate for the Toronto condo board election tells CTV News she wonders if early counts played a role in her board members’ decision to abruptly postpone a condo election. which was scheduled for November.
Adele Miller had decided to run for office in one of CityPlace’s three condo corporations the same day she discovered outgoing board member Howard Tsao was being disciplined by the part of an investment regulator regarding the management of the funds of three co-ownership companies. She said she missed a deadline to be on a ballot, but continued her campaign as a write-in candidate.
“It’s my house, it’s an investment, I want to make sure we manage the building wisely,” Miller said in an interview. “I want to be on the board to provide more transparency to owners.”
The securities industry self-regulatory organization, IIROC, alleged in a Notice of Hearing that in June 2017, Howard Tsao was told by his employer, a branch of RBC Dominion Securities, that he couldn’t be treasurer and board member of three condo corporations at the same time. while being their registered representative, managing the investments of the condos.
Tsao did it anyway, according to IIROC’s advice, and was fired on February 20, 2020 “due to his misrepresentations.” The notice says he also failed to respond to IIROC’s investigation and accused him of not cooperating with their enforcement staff.
“The Respondent earned $45,532 in fees for the accounts between September 2017 and December 2018 alone,” the Notice of Hearing reads.
Neither Tsao nor his attorney responded to questions from CTV News Toronto. His attorney appeared at a brief IIROC hearing in late 2021, saying Tsao disagreed with the allegations. Tsao told building owners he planned to fight the allegations.
“I dispute the allegations that have been made and I intend to dispute them. As an owner, I am fully committed to the condo corporation and would appreciate your continued support,” he wrote in a message to owners in November.
As the election unfolded, Miller said she heard supporters say that despite being a written candidate, she was gathering support. But then the election was called off.
“Things looked really good for me in terms of winning,” she said. “But they chose to delay until further notice.”
The management of the condominium, Elite Property Management Inc, denied that the postponement of the meeting was intended to give an advantage to any outgoing director.
“It’s actually quite the opposite,” said Tamara Byrne. “Howard Tsao was the only candidate to submit his nomination before the posted deadline. In accordance with condominium law, only candidates who submitted before the deadline were included in the AGM file. Afterwards, several people showed up with the intention of showing up, not just Ms. Miller. As such, the Council, in consultation with legal counsel, chose to postpone the meeting so that all candidates had an equal electoral platform and to avoid allegations of any “incumbent advantage”.
The CityPlace condo and the Reiner-managed condo both use a digital voting platform called GetQuorum. This company confirmed to CTV New s Toronto that the platform has the ability to provide advance vote counts – but it only follows Ontario law and replicates a legal physical process on a computer.
“As is also the case with paper proxy counts, electronic proxy vote counts are accessible by the client’s authorized agent prior to the meeting. It is not within the scope of GetQuorum’s service to dictate how advance counts are used,” co-founder Ben Zelikovitz said in an email response to questions.
He said if his clients wanted, they could use a feature called advance electronic voting, rather than digital proxy votes, which would mean the company could restrict access to results until the time of the meeting.
Miller said she would prefer to have a provincial agency to complain to — but right now, there is no provincial agency that can take a complaint about condo elections and how they are going. That’s something that should change, said NDP MP Jessica Bell.
“It’s a bit like the far west in the condo sector today. There is little recourse condo residents can take if their condo has an unfair election and that needs to change,” Bell said.
“We are asking the Ontario government to reinforce this so that if the condo has a problem, they have a number to call and someone from the government who has the power to investigate and the power to issue fines if they call. uncovers wrongdoing,” she said. .
The provincial government is seeking feedback on proposed changes to virtual meetings “while ensuring fairness and integrity,” said Barbara Hanson, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, noting consultation, available until January 22.
The Condominium Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario does not have jurisdiction over condominium elections, but it does have jurisdiction over those who run the elections: the condominium managers.
“The CMRAO is aware of the situation regarding electronic voting and has received several inquiries regarding the role of the condominium manager in this process,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to CTV News Toronto.
“The CMRAO expects condominium managers to act as impartial administrators in all voting and election processes… The role of the condominium manager with respect to condominium voting (electronic or otherwise) is to serve as neutral and unbiased facilitators. They should not attempt to influence the results of voting processes at condos,” the agency said, adding that it would issue additional guidelines soon.