Overview of the Ontario Realtor Wellness Program (ORWP)

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The Ontario Realtor Wellness Program (ORWP) is a program from the Ontario Real Association (OREA) that provides health benefits to all OREA members.

 

How the ORWP and its task force came to be

 

In early 2023, at the direction of its member boards, OREA created the Realtor Wellness Task Force. Its goal was to examine the viability, feasibility and scope of a province-wide insurance and benefits program for all OREA members — the ORWP.

A first of its kind in North America, the ORWP is meant to address the issue of many realtors lacking private health insurance by offering a comprehensive benefits package. It commenced on January 1, 2024.

While individual boards in Ontario have previously investigated implementing such a program at a local level, harnessing the collective bargaining strength of the entire OREA membership was believed to be the best option for providing affordable coverage.

The task force was co-chaired by OREA past-president Stacey Evoy and Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) past-president Kevin Crigger.

Tania Artenosi, OREA president, notes surveys indicated that far too many of its members didn’t have private health insurance and that a safety net was a top desire.

In a video message to the province’s boards, Artenosi says: “Offering a plan of this calibre at such a low cost requires the buying power of 96,000 members meaning, if approved, the ORWP standard plan will be mandatory for all OREA members, and all OREA members will pay the same, regardless of age.”

 

ORWP approved at OREA meeting

 

On June 20, 2023, OREA held a special general meeting (SGM) for Ontario boards to vote on having the ORWP. Only member board nominees with voting rights, directors, executive officers and past presidents were able to participate.

The result was nearly 80 per cent of votes from the province’s 34 member boards supporting the program, which would make it mandatory for members on January 1, 2024.

 

What does the ORWP include?

 

The ORWP is available to all OREA members in Ontario and includes:

  • life insurance
  • critical illness insurance
  • out-of-country emergency medical travel insurance
  • accidental death and dismemberment insurance

Some benefits will be reduced for those aged 65 and over. Program specifics can be found on OREA’s website.

A member and family assistance program option is also available. This provides virtual mental health support and healthcare coverage, including prescription drugs capped at $750, paramedical services (chiropractor, massage, and several others) capped at $750 and medical supplies capped at $500.

The program requires Ontario OREA members to participate or lose their association membership, even if they already have coverage through another provider or a spouse’s plan.

 

How much does the ORWP cost?

 

Per member, the ORWP’s cost is expected to be about $660 annually for the standard plan. This premium is in addition to regular OREA dues of $110. OREA confirms that for members to be in good standing, both of these fees (plus HST) must be remitted.

Local boards are responsible for collecting the dues and remitting them to OREA. So, “The $659.88 portion of the 2024 OREA dues representing the ORWP annual premium is collected from individual members by their payee member board and remitted to OREA monthly,” OREA states. OREA then sends the collected premium for enrolled members to the insurance carriers each month.

Based on the current membership of approximately 96,000, the ORWP will create an additional $63.3 million in dues collected. 

 

Community response to the ORWP

 

The implementation of the ORWP has evoked a wide range of reactions among members of OREA. Notably, a substantial number of realtors have actively opposed the program. This opposition has manifested through various forms of engagement, including the signing of petitions, participation in dedicated Facebook groups and attendance at meetings to voice concerns against the ORWP.

The primary issues raised by members include:

1. Compulsory participation. Realtors have expressed reservations about the ORWP’s mandatory nature, questioning the lack of an opt-out option.

 

2. Changes in benefits for older members. There is unease regarding the reduction in coverage for members over the age of 65, without a corresponding decrease in dues.

 

3. Communication gaps. A significant concern has been the perceived lack of transparency and effective communication from OREA during the development and implementation stages of the ORWP.

 

This array of concerns has led to spirited discussions within the realtor community. Those who have played a role in developing or endorsing the ORWP have encountered substantial backlash, facing intense criticism and calls for boycotts across various forums.

Meanwhile, a well-known Facebook group focused on the ORWP debate was shut down amid this controversy. It’s important to note that critics of the program have also experienced their share of critique and sarcasm in online discussions.

 

Legal challenges

 

Lawyer Adam Chisholm, partner with McMillan LLP in Toronto, was hired in the fall by a group of concerned realtors to potentially launch a legal challenge to the ORWP. 

Chisholm filed complaints about the ORWP with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, alleging age and disability discrimination.

The purported human rights infringements centre around the potentially discriminatory or prejudicial effects of the ORWP on various members who, due to factors such as age, disability or marital status/spousal benefits, may wind up with lost or inferior coverage.

In a letter to OREA president Tania Artenosi, Chisholm describes the ORWP’s fast-tracked trajectory in 2023 from a concept to a mandated reality. His clients feel that the process has lacked transparency — particularly around the mandatory piece — and that OREA hasn’t made reasonable efforts to hear and address member criticisms and accommodate concerns about the aspects of the plan that could be construed as ageist, punitive and/or constituting unfair differential treatment to certain groups.

 

Board-level opposition to the ORWP

 

There’s a notable division among real estate boards in Ontario regarding the ORWP. Initial support for the program, as indicated by over 80 per cent of votes in favour at its inaugural approval meeting, has since seen a shift.

This shift led 10 boards to request a second SGM with OREA, in accordance with the association’s bylaws. The SGM took place on November 29, 2023, and the outcome showed a more divided stance compared to the initial vote. In this meeting, 59 voted to make the ORWP optional rather than mandatory, but 73 opposed this change and 29 abstained from voting. Consequently, the ORWP remained mandatory, effective January 1, 2024.

The Waterloo Regional Association of Realtors (WRAR) has openly stated its inability to support the program in its present form. A report from WRAR criticizes the program as being tangential to the core activities of real estate trade. It argues that obliging all members to participate — regardless of individual need — to subsidize the costs for a smaller group who favour the program is contentious.

Furthermore, WRAR expressed skepticism about the fairness of the initial vote on June 20, suggesting that the outcome might have been a foregone conclusion. This perception was fueled by the dominant voting power of TRREB.

 

Toronto Regional Real Estate Board’s influence on the ORWP

 

TRREB, the largest board in Ontario, holds a significant influence in the province’s real estate decisions due to its substantial voting power in the assembly. With 49 per cent of the votes, TRREB’s stance can be highly influential, often determining the direction of province-wide initiatives. This has been particularly evident in the case of the ORWP, where TRREB’s support has been a decisive factor, despite the mixed reactions from smaller boards.

Paul Baron, president of TRREB, shared his perspective with REM, highlighting the long-standing demand among TRREB members for comprehensive health and wellness coverage. He views the ORWP as a crucial advancement, describing it as a “safety net” that benefits all realtors, not just those within TRREB.

 

Survey insights: Realtor opinions on the ORWP

 

Diverse perspectives from Ontario realtor boards

 

Several real estate boards across Ontario, including WRAR, Simcoe & District Real Estate Board and Barrie & District Association of Realtors, conducted internal surveys to gauge their members’ views on the ORWP.

A common trend emerged, with the majority of members across the boards expressing reservations about the program. When results were combined from all eight boards, only 22 per cent showed support for the ORWP, with 63 per cent opposed and the rest undecided or having other opinions.

Notably, a significant factor influencing opinions was the mandatory nature of the program. Many respondents indicated they might support the ORWP if participation were optional. Additionally, a concern raised by the WRAR survey was the lack of sufficient information for members to make fully informed decisions.

 

REM’s unofficial poll

 

REM conducted an independent poll on June 23, 2023, which echoed similar sentiments. Out of 1,152 respondents, only 22.6 per cent were in favour of the ORWP, while a considerable 77.4 per cent opposed it. This opposition was not limited to Ontario, as only 18.3 per cent of respondents from other provinces expressed interest in implementing a similar program.

 

Toronto Regional Real Estate Board survey findings

 

TRREB’s survey, conducted before the OREA November SGM, revealed a nearly even split among its members regarding the ORWP’s mandatory implementation: 39.6 per cent in support and 39.5 per cent against.

When asked specifically if TRREB should endorse the ORWP as a member benefit, a slightly higher number of members opposed it than supported it (35.8 per cent vs. 31.6 per cent). 

Proponents of the ORWP cited its value and affordability as key advantages. In contrast, the primary concern among opponents was its compulsory nature, especially for those who already had existing insurance coverage. Furthermore, the survey highlighted a lack of program awareness, with over 42 per cent of respondents indicating unfamiliarity with the ORWP.

 

WRAR to not invoice for the ORWP

 

WRAR has informed its members that it will not include the ORWP fees in its invoices. This decision, communicated through an email from WRAR president Christal Moura on December 8, 2023, reflects the board’s unique position on the issue.

Moura notes, “This is uncharted territory, and no precedent exists in how OREA will react.” The board states its greatest concern is access to standard forms: “While OREA has a history of licensing its forms to real estate lawyers in Ontario, we cannot rely on the same being offered to us, which is why WRAR is actively developing alternative forms,” Moura continues.

A follow-up document from December 15, 2023 notes WRAR’s view that “the ORWP, as presently constituted, and the OREA bylaw as it relates to ORWP are illegal and unenforceable.”

 

Looking ahead: The ORWP’s future amid controversy

 

As the ORWP takes effect, its future remains a topic of intense debate and speculation. The landscape is complicated by ongoing legal challenges, WRAR’s decision not to collect the ORWP portion of OREA dues and persistent opposition from various quarters. Despite these uncertainties, the ORWP stands as a brand-new initiative in Canada, marking a significant development in the industry.

Realtors have polarized opinions on the program, with vocal supporters and critics making their voices heard. This divide over the ORWP could potentially become a key issue in upcoming elections within the real estate community.

For those seeking a more detailed understanding of the ORWP’s journey and its reception, a comprehensive collection of articles is available, tracing REM’s coverage of the program from its inception. These pieces offer in-depth insights into the various facets of the ORWP and its impact on the real estate sector in Ontario.

 

OREA wants your input on the future of a benefits program — April 28, 2023

Ontario realtors face mandatory health benefits program: What you need to know — June 16, 2023

Mandatory health benefits: OREA members not permitted to speak at Tuesday’s special meeting — June 20, 2023 

OREA membership fees expected to surge over 700% after ORWP approval — June 22, 2023

Opposition mounts as OREA members face mandatory insurance plan — July 11, 2023

OPINION: No voice, no choice for OREA’s 96,000 members — July 27, 2023

Letter from the Publisher: Understanding ORWP and the importance of realtor involvement — July 28, 2023

Letter to the Editor: The ORWP is a long-awaited lifeline — August 1, 2023

Letter to the Editor: When it comes to ORWP, embracing change is for the greater good — August 8, 2023

10 Ontario boards request special meeting over OREA’s mandatory insurance plan — October 6, 2023

Lawyer joins ORWP fray, files complaints with Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario — November 10, 2023

Ethical Dilemmas: Mandatory ORWP – an exercise of responsibility or power? Do benefits outweigh rights? — November 23, 2023

Ontario boards vote to keep ORWP as mandatory — November 29, 2023

ORWP special general meeting: The issues, the vote, the next steps from here — December 1, 2023

 

You can also learn more about the ORWP program on OREA’s website.

 

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