Nova Scotia housing officials promise new policy to address conflicts of interest

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s Housing Department says a new policy will address issues of conflicts of interest highlighted in a recent auditor general's report.

A public housing official discussed the new policy on Wednesday during a hearing of the Nova Scotia legislature's public accounts committee, which met to discuss auditor general Kim Adair’s Jan. 17 report. That report found numerous incidents of conflicts of interest tied to Jamie Vigliarolo, former director of the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority.

Adair reported that the authority, which was dissolved last year and amalgamated into a provincial housing agency, awarded almost $1 million in contracts in 2021 to a security company that had ties to Vigliarolo.

Pam Menchenton, executive director of client services for provincial public housing, told the committee that the new policy establishes clear guidelines for identifying and reporting potential conflicts of interest. The old policy, she said, "may not have been applied consistently."

"We're tightening up; we're trying to close some gaps," she said.

The auditor general report said Vigliarolo had conflicts of interest that were not disclosed. He was director of the largest housing authority in the province, and responsible for more than 4,000 housing units in 90 properties in the Halifax area and Hants County.

Adair reported that Vigliarolo, who was a landlord, received $116,000 in income support payments, on behalf of tenants, from the Department of Community Services between April 2011 and June 2022. He told auditors that he informed the authority's executive director about his rental properties and that he was receiving these payments, but "this declaration was unable to be verified because it was not documented in writing," the auditor general said.

During Wednesday's meeting, NDP member Sue Leblanc asked why the conflicts of interest weren't addressed or disclosed prior to the auditor general probe. She also asked whether the Housing Department had investigated any of the conflicts before a complaint was brought to the auditor general.

Her questions were not answered.

Leblanc said members learned ahead of the committee meeting that Mark Peck, a high-ranking official in the Housing Department in 2021, would be unable to attend despite being called as a witness.

"It would have been great to get some comment from people who were on the ground of the time of this happening," Leblanc said in an interview following the meeting.

"It is quite egregious what happened," Leblanc said, adding that her party still has questions about how the conflicts of interest were brought forward and who inside the department was aware of them.

Her questions, as well as others that were unanswered at the meeting, are being submitted in writing to Peck, who as of Jan. 23 began a new role as CEO of Nova Scotia's newly created Joint Regional Transportation Agency.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press