The non-profit at the centre of the BC Housing nepotism scandal is now the subject of a federal review.
Atira Women’s Resource Society CEO Janice Abbott, who is married to former BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay, was reappointed to the board of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in December 2020 for a second three-year term.
The damning, Monday-published Ernst and Young report for the Office of the Comptroller General found Ramsay subverted conflict of interest rules and shifted contracts and funding to Atira without a competitive process. Ramsay had agreed in-writing in 2010 to a conflict of interest protocol to manage the business side of his relationship with Abbott.
A statement from the Office of the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion said the CMHC board is not involved in awarding national housing strategy funding.
“However, as a precautionary measure, Minister [Ahmed] Hussen has already directed CMHC to review Atira. Minister Hussen will also be asking the chair of the CMHC board of directors to look into this to ensure all rules were followed by CMHC board members at all times.”
Ramsay announced Aug. 2 that he would retire from BC Housing on Sept. 6. That was also the day that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $1.4 billion CMHC loan to Senakw, the Squamish Nation tower development around the Burrard Bridge. Three weeks later, on Sept. 27, Ramsay was announced as the executive vice-president of Squamish Nation-owned Nch’kay Development, the partner with developer Westbank.
Last July 28, Surrey politicians cut the ribbon on Atira’s 44-unit Little Too’s modular housing complex, a $16.4 million CMHC project through its rapid housing initiative. Little Too’s also has operations funding for 20 years from BC Housing. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined Abbott for a pre-opening tour of the project in April 2022.
Conservative Tracy Gray (Kelowna-Lake Country) asked CMHC senior vice-president Paul Mason at a House of Commons committee meeting on Feb. 17 whether Abbott recused herself from decisions that led to the funding.
Mason initially said CMHC ensures staff are not working with board members on applications.
“The question was whether or not the board member would have removed herself during any discussions on the rapid housing initiative that would have been discussed at the board level?” Gray said.
“That would be my understanding, yes,” Mason replied.
Atira communications director Caithlin Scarpelli has not responded to repeated queries. Premier David Eby and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon have publicly called for Atira to replace Abbott. A statement released late May 8 by the Atira board of directors said it “remains confident that its CEO and senior management will guide the organization through these challenges and make required improvements to Atira’s operations and administration.”
On May 12, Atira said it had returned the $1.9 million in surplus funds to BC Housing and would begin an internal review.
Atira’s board includes two BC Hydro executives: corporate secretary Amy McCallion and advisor to the chief financial officer Taha Rizwan. Neither responded. Instead of commenting, CFO David Wong forwarded a request to Mora Scott in the BC Hydro communications department.
“BC Hydro has employees across the province that give their time every day with sincere desire to improve their community,” Scott said. “We don’t direct how employees spend their time outside of work as long as they adhere to our code of conduct policy.”
That policy includes sections on compliance with the law and conflict of interest.
Also on the Atira board is Miriam Sobrino, communications director for the Health Sciences Association of B.C. and wife of Minister of Forests and Surrey-Whalley NDP MLA Bruce Ralston. Sobrino has also not replied.
Squamish Nation council chair Dustin Rivers, aka Khelsilem, did not respond to questions about the council’s reaction to the BC Housing report and whether Ramsay has the nation’s confidence.
Squamish Nation spokesperson Marc Riddell referred questions to Nch’kay, but its CEO, Mindy Wight, has also not yet responded. Nch’kay’s chair is Joy MacPhail, the former NDP leader who chairs BC Ferries.
Midday May 12, however, Nch’kay announced in a one-sentence statement that Ramsay was no longer employed there.
Since 2019, Atira’s funding outpaced other agencies, culminating in 2022 when it received $35 million more than the next-highest provider.
“BC Housing’s financial reviews of Atira have been substantially delayed,” the Ernst and Young report said. “The most recently completed financial review was for fiscal year 2020, which was finalized in August 2022.”
The report also said that Ramsay modified meeting minutes and routinely deleted text messages, despite explicit instructions from the Office of the Comptroller General to preserve records.
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