An Update on the Retirement Homes Act

The Retirement Homes Act, the first bill to regulate the retirement homes industry in Ontario, received royal assent on June 8th. With more than 50,000 retirement home spaces in Ontario and a population of seniors expected to double to nearly 4.1 million within 25 years, the legislation is urgently needed.

CARP, along with other concerned stakeholders, gave a presentation before the Standing Committee on Social Policy in June. To view CARP’s final submission on Bill 21 please click here. CARP commended the government’s positive actions but also raised some concerns.

Vice President of CARP Advocacy, Susan Eng, was optimistic: “the proposed changes recognize the growing need for more care services and accommodation outside institutional settings and ensures that the safety and quality of services in retirement homes meet the standards we would want for ourselves and our loved ones.”

However, Eng also cautioned that the proposed legislation was not as strong on accountability, governance, and consumer protection as it could be. To view transcripts of CARP’s Committee presentation, please click here.

CARP pointed out that the Bill contained no assurance that the composition of the board charged with overseeing the retirement homes regulator would not favour the industry. CARP was also concerned that while the bill established a Residents’ Bill of Rights, it relied on a complaint driven process for reporting abuses. Finally, CARP questioned the licensing process in the bill noting that the bill should not give licenses out prior to homes meeting specified standards.

CARP’s call for changes was echoed by other stakeholders who also urged amendments to strengthen the bill’s accountability and governance provisions.

In a briefing session in early July, the government told CARP and others what amendments had been made in response to these concerns. The government clarified that board membership would be based on qualification (competencies, skills) rather than representation or affiliation with a particular group, industry or sector. In other words, there is no stipulation that the board or the authority must include non-industry personnel. There is instead a two step process: 1. The composition of the board will be put into by-laws 2. The board will decide on these by-laws subject to ministerial approval. This added layer of process is not the same as stipulating that a percentage of the board or authority be citizens, residents or consumer advocates.

It is still the case that homes will be deemed to be registered without first being required to pass a basic inspection or meet minimum standards. CARP called for the government to reverse this negative option and to make homes subject to rigorous inspection in order to obtain a license. At the briefing, it was clarified that retirement homes will have a grace period after which they must meet the requirements of the Act. At the end of the grace period they will be deemed to be in contravention of the Act unless they are licensed. Given the concerns voiced, the inspection and licensing procedures may be tightened up but that remains to be seen.