FINTRAC and CASL made 2014 exceptionally busy for advocacy at CREA

This past year, two major pieces of federal legislation kept CREA's advocacy team working hard to ensure that new regulations governing financial transactions and electronic communications had the lowest possible impact on REALTORS®.

While nobody is cheering the paperwork made necessary by FINTRAC, nor the new restrictions on email communications under CASL, the simple truth is that without years of sustained lobbying efforts by CREA, these two laws, would have been far more disruptive to the day-to-day business activities of REALTORS®.

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(Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada)

FINTRAC is actually an acronym for the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, the federal government agency responsible for deterring money laundering and the financing of terrorist groups. FINTRAC has also become shorthand for the regulations that many sectors of the economy must follow as part of this country's long-standing international commitments to stem the flow of illegal money around the globe. Because of the risk governments see with money laundering and terrorist financing occurring through real estate transactions, REALTORS® have been tasked with helping to ensure that their clients are not engaged in such illegal transactions.


(Canadian anti-spam legislation)

CASL, similarly, is an acronym – Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation – that has become widely used to describe a set of regulations with a far more cumbersome name. For some time, Canada was the only major developed country that did not have some form of legislation to counter spam email and otherwise govern how companies deal with individuals in various forms of electronic communications. Businesses everywhere in Canada, and that includes REALTORS®, must now comply with new rules under CASL.

FINTRAC burden greatly reduced through CREA advocacy efforts

There is no doubt the introduction of new FINTRAC regulation places a paperwork burden on REALTORS®. Due to three years of sustained lobbying by CREA, however, the administrative and record-creation burden of these new requirements on REALTOR® members has been significantly reduced. The most important change was to restore flexibility and discretion to REALTORS® as they asses each client's risk. In addition, members do not have to monitor clients beyond the transaction period, as was originally proposed. For example, the discretion of REALTOR® members when evaluating client risk was restored, preventing a situation where all new clients and all clients from the United States would have been classified as high risk, and automatically subject to additional measures.

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Express consent to send emails made much easier with CREA efforts on CASL

With CASL, the biggest issue CREA tackled on behalf of its REALTOR® members was clarifying and making less restrictive the concept of consent. Did the REALTOR® clearly and expressly obtain permission from a prospect or client to send an email or is consent implied, and what form must that permission take in various different situations? As part of nine significant changes to CASL that CREA carved out to make it easier for REALTORS® to build and maintain client relationships, consent was at the heart of six of them.

Perhaps the most significant of these covered referrals, the lifeblood of many real estate practices. Before CREA's efforts, REALTORS® would not have been allowed to follow up by email on a third-party referral to a new prospective client. CREA's lobbying efforts also resulted in extending the period during which consent is considered to be in place, vastly simplified what constitutes consent, and allowed it to be given verbally, as well as in writing. Other CASL amendments secured by CREA removed the requirement that a REALTOR® have a website before sending emails, significantly streamlined unsubscribe requirements, and delayed by three years the right consumers have to take legal action against those who violate the rules, giving businesses more time to adapt to the unfamiliar new rules.

Advocacy also plays a critical role in assisting REALTORS® to comply

With both FINTRAC and CASL, CREA's efforts this past year on behalf of its members did not stop with lobbying for a more reasonable and practical set of regulations. Understanding that complying with the new rules is not a simple matter, CREA also developed training materials, and held workshops and webinars across the country to educate REALTORS® about their responsibilities under these new regulations and to help them comply.

Lobbying is a competitive business, and REALTORS® can make CREA more competitive

The issues around which CREA lobbies the federal government might be unique to organized real estate, but that doesn't mean that CREA has the field to itself. Quite the contrary. The two departments, Industry and Finance, with which CREA is most actively involved are the same two departments targeted by the vast majority of the more than 6,000 registered lobbyists working in Ottawa. And no matter how important real estate might be as a leading economic indicator, some of those lobbyists are representing industries, such as financial services and the energy sector, that simply have a much bigger impact on the Canadian economy.

CREA does have a major differentiator, though, that can greatly amplify the voice organised real estate can bring to federal advocacy: more than 100,000 REALTORS® from every corner of the country whose collective influence, if effectively harnessed, cannot be matched by many other sectors competing for the ear of government.

Home Buyers Plan the focus of REALTOR® Action Network call to action

CREA has two key programs to harness and focus that influence. The first is its PAC Days, an annual event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa that allows REALTORS® to speak directly to Members of Parliament about issues that affect homeowners and the real estate industry. The second is the more recently formed REALTOR® Action Network, a political engagement tool designed to leverage the collective influence of 110,000 REALTORS® in support of specific initiatives.

The first major initiative that RAN is tackling is an effort to persuade the federal government to add indexing to the popular Home Buyers' Plan that about 126,400 Canadians use every year to help purchase or build their first homes. Under the plan, homebuyers can withdraw up to $25,000 from their RRSPs, a significant amount that makes getting a first home a lot easier. However, the $25,000 has not increased in many years, and so its buying power has been eroded by inflation. CREA would like the federal government to index the HBP to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in $2,500 increments to ensure that first-time homebuyers never lose their purchasing power.