Ontario Real Estate Association says pro-candidate ads were put up ‘in error’

TORONTO — The Ontario Real Estate Association is pulling four election-focused billboard advertisements as it steps away from political advocacy amid a spat with the Toronto Real Estate Board.

OREA said Tuesday that four billboards supporting two candidates in the provincial election were put up “in error” and will be removed.

The real estate association said the signs were accidentally erected after Outfront Media, a marketing company hired by OREA, missed an email requesting that they not be posted, OREA vice-president Matthew Thornton said Tuesday

One billboard reads “Taras Natyshak – A strong local voice for Essex homeowners” and other three read “Charles Sousa – A strong local voice for Mississauga-Lakeshore homeowners.”

Sousa is the Liberal government’s finance minister and Natyshak is a New Democrat member of the legislature.

He said OREA voted last week to step away from some of the political activism it had planned for the provincial election campaign and put more focus on advocating for affordable home ownership.

“It was a really unfortunate error…It was something that shouldn’t have been up in the first place,” said Thornton on Tuesday. “As of today, (the billboards) should be covered up.”

Outfront did not immediately respond to a request for comments.

The billboard error comes amid increasing scrutiny on OREA, whose chief executive is former Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak.

In a letter obtained by The Canadian Press last week, Toronto Real Estate Board President Tim Syrianos slammed OREA for endorsing politicians with “member dues without member’s knowledge and buy-in.”

“We are collectively mandated to work with whatever party is elected to produce policies that benefit our members, consumers and our industry. Our members should be free to support whomever they choose and it would be arrogant to align with any one party or candidate that may conflict with the beliefs of members,” the letter said.

“For these reasons, and with all due respect, we request and advise that OREA avoid taking overt political positions by supporting individual politicians.”

OREA and TREB have repeatedly declined to comment on the specifics of the letter, referring The Canadian Press to a joint statement released May 11 that said the letter is “not reflective of the long standing and positive relationship” between the associations. They said they hope to resolve the discussions “amicably and internally.”

On Tuesday, OREA and TREB again referred The Canadian Press to the statement, but Thornton revealed more details about OREA’s “Keep the Dream Alive” campaign, which is meant to raise awareness around the lack of affordability young people are facing in the housing market.

The billboards were part of the campaign until the board axed them because it wanted to ensure it was putting the larger campaign first, Thornton said.

As part of the campaign, he said OREA will still be involved in candidate debates and surveys, advocacy work around home ownership and the lack of housing supply, and will engage with politicians at Queen’s Park when the provincial government returns to session. OREA will also launch digital advertising in spring and the fall.

OREA has had to adjust its mandate after it lost the ability to provide educational courses to realtors after December 2020, when the Real Estate Council of Ontario put out a request for proposals to find a new body to administer such courses.

Last April, it announced that Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning and learning management company NIIT Canada would take over realtor education.

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