Alberta auto industry watchdog fires senior investigators

Several key managers have been fired from the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council, the agency which licences and regulates auto dealers and repair shops, and investigates consumer complaints, CBC's Go Public has learned.

Agency failing to protect vehicle buyers, says consumer advocate

Several key managers have been fired from the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council, the agency which licences and regulates auto dealers and repair shops, and investigates consumer complaints, CBC’s Go Public has learned.

Bob Knight was AMVIC’s manager of investigations for several years until he was fired on April 10th.

Also fired were Murray Savage, head of investigations for northern Alberta; Shannon DeLorey, chief financial officer and former acting executive director; and Thelma Ketler, communications and education director.

Go Public has spoken with two of the fired employees, Knight and Savage, who confirmed they and the other two managers were fired on Wednesday and Thursday last week. Both claimed they were "terminated without cause."

Neither was told why they were fired and both said the dismissals came as a surprise. Savage said he was told by Executive Director John Bachinski that AMVIC was moving in another direction, but that Bachinski didn’t elaborate.

Agency called a ‘rubber stamp’

A Go Public investigation in March found consumers who say they were told by car dealers to pay hundreds of dollars for optional warranties they hadn’t asked for.

People also complained about paying $400 "document fees" after they had agreed to a final price. Alberta law says the only mandatory charge beyond the agreed-upon sale price is GST.

George Iny of the Automobile Protection Association calls AMVIC "complacent" and a "rubber stamp."

"Personally we think the regulator is actually colluding with the dealers in the practice (of tacking on extra charges)."

Most AMVIC board members are from industry

John Bachinski was hired in July 2012 and answers to AMVIC’s Board of Directors.

Nine of the 11 seats on the board are reserved for representatives of the auto repair and sales industry.

The Motor Dealers’ Association of Alberta holds one of the nine industry seats.

"There’s always changes when there’s a change in leadership," said Denis Ducharme, president of the MDA, and a former cabinet minister in the Alberta government.

"Mr. Bachinski has to build up the team he is comfortable with and that he can work with."

Ducharme said the MDA has a good relationship with AMVIC.

He has called Bachinski personally to relay concerns from dealers who felt they were being treated unfairly by AMVIC, but he never influenced Bachinski on how to respond to the concerns, he said.

He also said the dealers’ association had no influence over the changes at AMVIC.

'Business as usual,' says AMVIC director

Bachinski refused to comment on the reasons for the firings or whether more people would be shown the door.

He said the changes wouldn’t compromise AMVIC’s work.

"As executive director I am responsible for AMVIC and will keep things going," he said. "We have lots of good staff and things will carry on."

Bachinski promised more investigations and greater consumer protection in the future.

"It’ll be business as usual for AMVIC and we’ll just keep going," Bachinski said.

Minister supported work of AMVIC investigators

Just three weeks before the firings, Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar said he was happy with the recent work of AMVIC investigators.

Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar would not comment on the firings. (CBC)

Since 2011 the number of investigations has nearly doubled.

"I think there has been a re-focusing with AMVIC," Bhullar said in an interview with Go Public in March. "I’m looking forward to seeing the result of these investigations."

This week Bhullar refused to comment on the firings.

"How they restructure, how they run things within their shop, is a determination of their leadership and their board," he said.

"What we expect of them is results in protecting Albertans and Alberta consumers."