CBABC brings parties together to find resolution
by Meg Shaw
In March 2003, the B.C. Government issued a discussion paper on proposed reform to the Real Estate Act. The proposal included tampering with the exemption that allows lawyers to assist clients in real estate transactions without being licensed under the Real Estate Act.
In response, the CBABC Real Estate Sections and Solicitors Issues Committee formed a sub-committee that in short order produced a comprehensive 39-page submission to the Minister of Finance.
We added the Real Estate Act issue to our government relations agenda to increase pressure by using the CBA MLA Network – Provincial Council members met with each MLA, providing them with a two-page position brief on the issue, including reasons why the lawyers exemption should not be amended. We met with Ian Mulgrew, at the Vancouver Sun, to brief him on the issue. He subsequently wrote a major article on it. We ensured that the topic was mentioned in every MLA and Ministerial meeting we had – the intent was to educate the Caucus about the issue, and build a core group of supporters from within.
On July 24, 2003, CBABC met with the Deputy Minister of Finance and his senior staff, for a full hour of frank discussion about our concerns and, on the government’s side, the issues that had led the Ministry to propose the change. The Deputy advised us that the key to resolving this issue was for the legal profession and realtor groups to reach an agreement that removed the need for government intervention.
In early September, we convened an historic meeting of the CEOs and advisors of the regulators and professional associations of both the legal profession and real estate practitioners – the B.C. Real Estate Association, the Real Estate Council of B.C., the Canadian Bar Association B.C. Branch, the Law Society of B.C. and the Society of Notaries Public (“the Group”). This Group would meet and correspond over the next four months, successfully narrowing down the issues of concern, and seeking resolutions.
At this table, it was identified that rules governing lawyer employees were of particular concern. The Law Society demonstrated its goodwill in seeking to resolve the matter quickly by establishing a Law Society Task Force, headed by bencher Ralston Alexander, QC. The Group proposed names of individuals to serve on the Task Force, to represent a balance of interests. The Task Force was established, met and developed a series of recommendations that were accepted by the benchers. The fact that the concerns of realtors were met quickly and thoroughly by the Law Society provided a very positive environment for the next stage of the process.
On January 30, the Group met for the last time, to discuss the terms of agreement that would be sought from each of the representative groups. This included an agreement that supervision of law firm employees was already governed by the Legal Profession Act, including those engaged in the practice of real estate, and it was therefore unnecessary to include employees in the Real Estate Act exemption.
Over the course of the following week, each organization’s governors reviewed the matter and all agreed to proceed. On February 9, we sent a communiqué to the Deputy Minister of Finance saying “it is the consensus of all involved that the introduction and passage of a new Real Estate Act should proceed, with the lawyers exemption changed only by removal of the words “or a person employed by him or her.”
Following up on our earlier government relations action, we communicated to key MLAs we had briefed earlier, letting them know that the issue had been successfully resolved. Although the new Real Estate Act had not been introduced as of the date of writing this article, it is our expectation that there will be no further change to the lawyers exemption.
Meg Shaw is the Chair of the CBABC Government Relations Committee.
This article was published in the April 2004 issue of BarTalk. © 2004 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.