Opposition says B.C. NDP 'blame shifting' on housing; non-profit sees no wrongdoing

·3 min read

VICTORIA — A British Columbia housing provider that featured in a report citing risks to public funds and criticisms of its management says it's not giving up on its leaders, despite Premier David Eby's suggestion that change at the top should be an option.

The board of directors at the non-profit Atira Women's Resource Society responded to the forensic audit in a statement Tuesday, noting the report by Ernst and Young included no allegations of financial improprieties.

"It is important to appreciate that neither Atira nor its executive staff benefited financially by expanding and taking on more buildings," the statement says. "We are unsurprised by the key finding of the review that there was no evidence of financial improprieties within Atira's operations."

Janice Abbott, chief executive officer of Atira, which is the largest housing operator at Crown corporation BC Housing, was not immediately available for comment.

The audit released Monday found mismanagement related to a conflict of interest between the former CEO of BC Housing, Shayne Ramsay, and Abbott, who is his wife.

When asked on Monday about Abbott's future at Atira, Eby said the government expected the housing provider to take steps to ensure public confidence in its operations, which could include leadership change.

Eby's handling of the housing issue and the forensic report were debated Tuesday in the legislature during question period, which the premier did not attend.

"Nothing to see here folks," said Kevin Falcon, the leader of Opposition BC United. "That's the message the premier and the NDP have been giving the public. It's a damning pattern of evasion and not being straight with the public."

BC United accused Eby, a former housing minister, of burying earlier warning signs about financial mismanagement within Atira while overseeing increases in provincial funding for the housing provider.

"The shocking misrepresentations, evasion, blame shifting by this premier exemplifies what is going on and why we have not got housing for society's most vulnerable," said Falcon. "No wonder this government haven't come close to meeting their housing targets."

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the government will launch an inspection and audit process to ensure public housing dollars are spent properly.

He said he was waiting for Atira to respond to the report, but the government must now take immediate action.

"It would make it a lot easier if the board took some action on the findings but that being said, we have made it clear that we have to ensure that the public taxpayer dollars being spent to support the most vulnerable people in the province are being spent in the best way possible," Kahlon said.

The Atira statement says the report's recommendations "will be examined closely with the assistance of independent professionals and action will be taken to resolve them."

Atira operates 2,969 units of housing for women, children and gender diverse people in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Tuesday, May 9, 2023.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press