ACMO News Archive

Ontario Government Removes Chair, Treasurer of Condo Regulator Amid Conflict-of-Interest Reports

By Shane Dingman, Real Estate Reporter, The Globe & Mail, September 12, 2023.

The Ontario government has removed the chair and treasurer from the board of the province’s condo regulator, the latest sign of long-standing turmoil in the agency.

Heather Zordel, who was named chair of the Condominium Authority of Ontario in 2018, and Margaret Samuel, who has been on the board since 2019, had their appointments revoked just a week before the authority’s scheduled annual general meeting, which was to take place Wednesday.

Ms. Zordel is a lawyer and prominent fundraiser for the provincial Progressive Conservative and federal Conservative parties. Her appointments to the CAO and another agency, the Ontario Securities Commission, were dogged by resignations, governance issues and questions about conflicts of interest.

The CAO was created in 2017 by the previous Liberal government to offer training and dispute resolution options for the province’s more than 11,000 condo corporations, and is one of Ontario’s many delegated authorities mandated to oversee regulated industries. Ms. Zordel was appointed as chair shortly after Premier Doug Ford’s government took office in 2018.

Ontario’s Public Appointments Secretariat’s website was updated Monday morning to indicate that Bakir Alazawi and Sameer Malik were appointed to the board on Sept. 5 and 7, respectively.

Mr. Alazawi is the CEO of Charter Public Relations, which has done work for the Ontario government, while Mr. Malik is the CIO of cybersecurity firm Valencia Risk, and was a board member of Tarion Warranty Corporation between 2020 and August, 2023. There remains one open political appointee slot on the board.

“Ministerial appointments to the CAO’s board are made at the pleasure of the Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery and may be revoked at any time,” said ministry spokesperson Nicholas Rodrigues, who also declined to comment on why the appointments were revoked now.

In a phone interview, Ms. Zordel said she heard she was being removed from the board last week but said she hadn’t received any communication from the government about why.

“I’ve been on many different appointments; it’s all good with me, I’m happy to go where I’m needed … or wanted, right?” she said.

One current and one former board member said there were concerns on the board about a potential conflict after Ms. Zordel joined Ms. Samuel’s wealth management company, Enriched Investing, as the new in-house counsel earlier this year. Ms. Samuel, in her role as CAO treasurer, oversaw Ms. Zordel’s expenses. They said another issue was that the CAO board’s costs more than tripled during Ms. Zordel’s time as chair. The Globe and Mail is not naming the board members because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about internal board matters.

“Obviously we always look at potential issues, and so it was addressed,” said Ms. Zordel of the potential conflict. When asked whether the business relationship was disclosed to an ethics executive at the CAO or Ontario’s public service, as is protocol, Ms. Zordel ended the interview.

Ms. Samuel declined to comment.

CAO spokesperson Aleks Dhefto acknowledged the potential conflict issue in an interview.

“I’m not sure if that had any effect on the decision,” Mr. Dhefto said. “I think the important thing is that whatever perceived or real conflict of interest there might have been, we’re now looking forward to moving ahead with a new board and trying to do right by condo communities.”

Ms. Zordel’s time as chair included a mass resignation three years ago and several resignations and firings since. In April, 2020, all four non-political appointee members of the seven-member board resigned, citing concerns with Ms. Zordel’s leadership. “The level of collegiality and degree of trust that is so important to the success of any board and ultimately any organization has been in free fall,” former chair and director Tom Wright wrote in a resignation letter.

In the years that followed, all the new directors appointed after the resignations in 2020 also resigned or were removed, in some cases well ahead of their term’s expiration: In 2021, Mary Throop of Summerhill Capital Management didn’t seek a second term; in 2022, mediator and arbitrator Larry Banack resigned; in 2023, Judy Sue (an accountant with condominium fraud expert Eagle Audit Advantage) was not reappointed when her term expired; and tech entrepreneur Erik Levinson resigned in August.

At the same time she was serving as CAO board chair, Ms. Zordel had a controversial tenure at the Ontario Securities Commission. In 2019, she was appointed as a commissioner of the OSC in a process former auditor-general Bonnie Lysyk later described as “significantly politicized” and a departure from the non-partisan goal of providing oversight for the country’s largest capital markets.

The Globe and Mail reported later that Ms. Zordel’s colleagues pushed against her reappointment as commissioner. However, in March, 2022, she was appointed the chair of the board for the OSC, which triggered the resignation of two of her former commissioner colleagues. Ms. Zordel stepped down less than seven months later.