Ontario condo managers warned not to influence elections after investigator raises concerns about digital votes

One of Ontario’s provincial condo watchdogs says it’s going to tell condo managers to be impartial when running their board elections after it received a warning that features in digital condo votes made popular in the pandemic could compromise their integrity.

One of Ontario’s provincial condo watchdogs says it’s going to tell condo managers to be impartial when running their board elections after it received a warning that features in digital condo votes made popular in the pandemic could compromise their integrity.

Condo investigator William Stratas says he felt he had to come forward after hearing of cases where condo managers could be using tools in online voting platforms to give tallies of advance polls to favoured candidates, giving them a tactical advantage.

“I believe these practices have the potential to compromise confidentiality and fairness in 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 trusted impartial facilitators — not potential manipulators — of owners’ meetings and board elections,” he wrote.

Digital platforms for voting and condo meetings have exploded during the pandemic as a solution for physical distancing requirements, and also as a way to overcome voter apathy.

There are about 900,000 condominium units in Ontario, and 11,000 condominium corporations — some with multi-million dollar budgets with populations that dwarf small towns. During condo elections, an owner can vote in advance by writing a proxy form. That process has been replicated digitally by several digital voting platforms.

Stratas said in an interview he is concerned that a rush into these platforms has overlooked a potential flaw that he says allows those advance digital proxy votes to be counted and shared too easily.

If the condo manager shares the vote tallies with an incumbent candidate, that candidate could campaign differently as a result of the information, or use their power on the board to some other purpose, he said.

“Compare this to a scenario where Elections Canada is going into the advance poll ballot boxes, counting those results ahead of election day and releasing that to the governing party. This is a scandal of epic proportions,” Stratas said.

Angel Reiner of property management firm Onyx Group told CTV News Toronto she received a request from an incumbent board member at one of her properties asking to see the advance tallies mid-election.

“We had a board member come forward and ask to have the election results ahead of the meeting,” she said. “He wanted a particular individual to not be successful in his candidacy. I sat with my team and said, ‘We’re not doing this, right’? They said, ‘Absolutely not.’”

One candidate for a condo board election in a Toronto condo told CTV News she wondered if advance tallies played a role in a decision by her board members to abruptly reschedule a condo election that had been planned for November.

Adele Miller had decided to stand for election in one of three condo corporations at CityPlace the same day she found out one incumbent board member, Howard Tsao, was facing disciplinary action from an investment regulator relating to the management of three condo corporations’ funds. She said she missed a deadline to be on a ballot but continued her campaign as a write-in candidate.

“This is my home, it’s an investment, I want to make sure we are running the building wisely,” Miller said in an interview. “I want to be on the board to provide more transparency to owners."

The investment industry’s self-regulator, 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 could not both be the treasurer and board member for three condominium corporations while also being their registered representative, managing the condos’ investments.

Tsao did so anyway, the IIROC notice alleged, and was fired on February 20, 2020 “due to his misrepresentations.” The notice says he also didn’t respond to the IIROC investigation and accused him of failing to co-operate 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 lawyer responded to questions from CTV News Toronto. His lawyer appeared at a brief IIROC hearing in late 2021, indicating Tsao did not agree with the allegations. Tsao told owners in the building that he plans to fight the allegations.

“I dispute the allegations that have been made and intend to contest them. As an owner, I am fully committed to the condo corporation and would like to receive your continued support,” he wrote in a message to owners in November.

As the election proceeded, Miller said she had heard from supporters that despite being a write-in candidate, she was garnering support. But then the election was called off.

“Things were looking really good for me in terms of winning,” she said. “But they chose to delay until further notice.”

The condo management, Elite Property Management Inc, denied that the rescheduling of the meeting was intended to give any incumbent director an advantage.

“Actually quite the reverse,” said Tamara Byrne. “Howard Tsao was the only candidate to submit his nomination by the posted deadline. As per the Condo Act, only those candidates who submitted by the deadline were included in the AGM package. Subsequently, several individuals came forward intending to run, not just Ms. Miller. As such, the Board, in consultation with legal counsel, opted to reschedule the meeting so all candidates would have an equal election platform and to avoid allegations of any “incumbent advantage.””

The CityPlace condo and the condo managed by Reiner both use a digital voting platform called GetQuorum. That company confirmed to CTV New s Toronto that the platform does have the ability to provide advance vote tallies — but that it’s just following Ontario law and replicating a legal physical process on a computer.

“As is also the case with paper-based proxy tallies, electronic proxy voting tallies are accessible by the authorized agent of the client in advance of the meeting. It is outside the scope of GetQuorum’s service to dictate how the advance tallies are used,” co-founder Ben Zelikovitz said in an e-mailed answer to questions.

He said should his clients choose, they can use a feature called advance electronic balloting, 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 having 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 run. That’s something that should change, said NDP MPP Jessica Bell.

“It’s a bit of a wild west in the condo sector today. There’s little recourse condo residents can take if their condo has an unfair election and that’s got to change,” Bell said. 

“We are calling for the Ontario government to strengthen this so if the condo has a concern, they have a number to call, and a government person who has the authority to investigate and the authority to lay fines if they find wrongdoing,” she said.

The provincial government is asking for feedback on proposed amendments to virtual meetings “while ensuring fairness and integrity,” said Barbara Hanson, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, pointing to the consultation, accessible until January 22.

The Condo Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario doesn’t have jurisdiction over condo elections, but it does have jurisdiction over those that conduct the elections: the condo managers. 

“The CMRAO is aware of the situation as it relates to electronic voting and has received several inquiries related to the role of the condominium manager in this process,” a spokesperson wrote in an e-mail 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 as it relates to condo voting (electronic or otherwise) is to serve as neutral and unbiased facilitators. They should not attempt to influence the outcomes of voting processes in condos,” the agency said, adding that it would publish some additional guidance soon.