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HomeBusinessNDP government refusing to release background from BC Housing scandal probe

NDP government refusing to release background from BC Housing scandal probe

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Bob Mackin

The NDP government has rejected a freedom of information request for the transcripts and recordings of interviews with the subjects of the damning May report about the BC Housing nepotism scandal.

The Ministry of Housing claimed it has no records from meetings or correspondence between Ernst and Young (EY), which the Office of the Comptroller General contracted for the job, and ex-BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay and his wife, ex-Atira Women’s Resource Society CEO Janice Abbott.

Ravi Kahlon (left) and David Eby in December 2022 (Flickr/BCGov)

“Prior to responding to your request with the Ministry of Housing, Information Access Operations contacted [the Ministry of] Finance on your behalf to inquire if they would hold the sought records,” wrote Patrick Craib, a manager with the government’s centralized freedom of information office. “However, as the only EY deliverable was the final investigation report, they would not hold records either, the response to the request remains as no records.”

Of the 24 people interviewed, only the names of Ramsay, Abbott and ex-BC Housing CFO Abbas Barodawalla were not censored from the list in the EY report. 

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon did not respond to a text message interview request. 

Despite the Ministry’s response, the template for government services contracts states that the province exclusively owns material produced by contractors and that “the contractor must deliver any material to the province immediately upon the province’s request.”

Additionally, a key 2004 ruling by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner states that records created or acquired by or for a public body, as part of its mandate and functions, are public records under a public body’s control. Therefore, those records are subject to release.  

That case stemmed from the Saanich School Board’s hiring of an investigator to report on a harassment complaint. The employee under investigation unsuccessfully applied to the school board for the investigator’s notes, but an adjudicator later overturned that decision and ruled in favour of disclosure. 

Ramsay (BC Housing)

“The duty to provide access to records under the Act is not defined by the willingness of the public body or its staff, contractors or agents,” wrote adjudicator Celia Francis.

The executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association said the government strategically bypassed the Auditor General and Ombudsperson in favour of hiring one of the big, global accounting brands for political reasons. 

“One of those dynamics where it’s in the government’s interest to outsource these types of reviews to private corporations in order to try and create barriers to people gaining access to the information,” said Jason Woywada. “That is the unintended consequence, or perhaps the intended consequence, of what they’re doing, by doing this.”

Woywada said the public has the right to see background records after ultimately paying for the EY report that the government used to justify its decision-making.

“What were the questions that Ernst and Young asked in these interviews? What is the summary of those interviews?” Woywada said. “All of that is relevant information, to inform the report that then informed [the government’s] decision. Those are relevant pieces of information for the public.”

Atira CEO Janice Abbott with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (second from left) (Nomodic/CMHC)

The 50-page report was dated March 6 but not released until May 8. It found that Ramsay had subverted conflict of interest rules since 2019 in order to award contracts and funding to the Abbott-run Atira. Atira’s funding outpaced other agencies, culminating in 2022 when it received $35 million more than the next-highest provider. 

The report also said that Ramsay modified meeting minutes and routinely deleted text messages, despite the Office of the Comptroller General’s explicit instructions to preserve records. 

David Eby ordered the EY forensic audit before he resigned as Housing Minister and announced his candidacy last July 19 to replace John Horgan as premier.   

Less than two weeks later, Ramsay announced his retirement from BC Housing after 26 years with the Crown corporation. He went to work in September for Squamish Nation-owned Nch’kay Development as its executive vice-president. 

Nch’kay announced May 12 that Ramsay was no longer employed with the company that is partnered with developer Westbank to build the Senakw residential towers cluster on reserve land beside the Burrard Bridge. 

Abbott resigned the following week from both Atira and the board of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., which is backing Senakw with a $1.4 billion loan.

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