Governance: Toronto's Better Bureau

How does an organization that is supposed to promote trust restore it after a low period? The scandal-plagued Toronto office of the Better Business Bureau–whose mandate is “to promote and encourage outstanding ethical relationships between business and the public”–closed in May 2001 following a decade of questionable practices and criminal accusations. But it is finally getting a chance to clean the slate. Ric Borski, president of the financially stable Mid-Western and Central Ontario bureau, based in Kitchener, Ont., recently opened a new BBB office in Toronto and is now taking cases for arbitration.

“It was an obvious shame that we didn't have a proper presence [in Toronto],” says Borski. His group has already spent $100,000 on equipment, leasing and manpower, and nearly doubled its staff. Unlike its predecessor, the bureau plans to make detailed files documenting service complaints available on a website, and meet all BBB operating standards, including improved response time. By the end of November, the office's roster of local volunteer arbitrators should grow; Borski is planning interviews with half a dozen applicants. As word circulates that consumer/business binding arbitrations are available in Toronto, Borski expects interest to double. Looks like the Toronto BBB is actually getting a second run—let's hope they don't blow it.

A chequered past

1993 The Toronto bureau's board approves a $1-million severance cheque for retiring president Paul Tuz, then rehires him shortly after. Adding to that, Tuz expenses the BBB–over $45,000 in two years–for the costs of his other job as an honorary consul representing two African countries, Togo and Mali. Charged with four counts of fraud, Tuz is exonerated in a 1998 preliminary hearing.

1993 James (Jim) Emms is hired as a membership salesman, allegedly after finishing a jail term for fraud.

1995 Tom Reid, a communications specialist, is appointed interim president. Reid leaves shortly after, complaining of personal attacks by “Emms and his cohorts.”

1995 Peter Lalonde takes over as president. During Lalonde's tenure, the debt increases to more than $1.75 million and service standards decline.

2000 Warren Wall, sitting chairman, is convicted of breaching securities laws. His company, Dual Capital Management, cost investors US$1.5 million.

May 2001 Canada's oldest bureau is stripped of the right to use the Better Business Bureau name.

February 2002 Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus issues a warning that former Toronto bureau staff are still soliciting memberships.