A forensic audit of BC Housing released today revealed a pattern of mismanagement and repeated violations of conflict of interest policies, Premier David Eby told the British Columbia legislature today.
The audit follows more than a year of reporting by The Tyee into allegations of mismanagement. They included repeated allegations that, despite conflict rules, former BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay directed funding to Atira Women’s Resource Society, run by his spouse Janice Abbott and now the largest supportive housing operator in B.C.
The Tyee reported concerns from former staff and consultants on how BC Housing was being operated and funding decisions were made.
The Tyee also broke several stories detailing conflict of interest allegations.
Here is a timeline of that reporting.
BC Housing executives had concerns about financial management at Atira Women’s Resource Society. But former employees said BC Housing’s board shelved a 2018 financial review before it could be completed. After an internal BC Housing review — which reported to the board, not the executive staff — they received an extra $686,242 to make up for budget shortfalls.
July 29, 2022
BC Housing Faces Continued Government Investigation
The day before the Canada Day long weekend, the Housing Ministry quietly released an operational review of BC Housing completed by Ernst & Young. The review found problems in the way the Crown corporation had awarded some multimillion-dollar housing contracts with little or no documentation. On July 10 — also a Friday — government again made an end-of-day announcement that BC Housing’s entire board would be replaced. At the end of July, The Tyee was able to confirm that another investigation of BC Housing was still happening, but government remained tight-lipped about what that probe entailed.
That led Opposition MLAs to call for more transparency into both the problems at the Crown corporation and the decision to replace the board.
“When a press release goes out about the replacement of a board chair and a board of a multibillion-dollar government body, I think the public should expect some pretty clear communication about how and why those decisions were made,” said Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley and leader of the BC Greens.
Aug. 2, 2022
BC Housing CEO Steps Down, Citing Violence
Ramsay, who had led BC Housing since 2000, announced he would be stepping down as CEO. Ramsay said at the time that he was stepping down because he had been deeply affected by several violent incidents in the Downtown Eastside, as well as being threatened with physical violence by opponents of a supportive housing project.
“I no longer have confidence I can solve the complex problems facing us at BC Housing,” Ramsay wrote in a letter sent to BC Housing staff.
Nov. 22, 2022
BC Liberals Target Eby’s ‘Mismanagement’ of BC Housing
The BC Liberal opposition goes on the attack. Armed with their own copy of the 2018 BDO review already reported by The Tyee, as well as a series of texts that purport to show Ramsay getting involved in decisions that affect Atira, BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon calls for an independent audit of both BC Housing and Atira.
Nov. 25, 2022
Conflict of Interest Alleged in BC Housing Decisions
After days of questioning in the B.C. legislature, Premier David Eby revealed that BC Housing is undergoing a forensic audit.
The Tyee was able to independently verify that the texts cited by the BC Liberals were sent to a BC Housing executive. We also reported that several former BC Housing staffers had concerns about conflict of interest when they worked at the Crown corporation.
Those employees said Ramsay broke guidelines repeatedly when he discussed funding decisions and project contracts related to Atira with them and other BC Housing staff, and that he repeatedly pressured senior staff to approve funding to Atira.
The B.C. government announced it would be expanding the province’s whistleblower protection law to a number of Crown corporations, boards and government agencies that were previously excluded.
The acting CEO of BC Housing, Vincent Tong, sent an email to all employees at the Crown corporation on the change in legislation. In the email obtained by The Tyee, Tong wrote that BC Housing had created a whistleblower policy and procedure, which all staff would be trained on in the new year.
The Tyee spoke to two other former BC Housing employees who say they attempted to report conflict of interest concerns in 2010, 2011 and again in 2017. But those concerns were never acted upon, the employees said.
The former employees, who worked at BC Housing in the early 2010s, said Ramsay repeatedly directed them to provide funding to Atira Women’s Resource Society.
Senior employees who spoke up about the conflict of interest concerns were fired or pushed out of BC Housing, said the two former employees.
While the BC Liberals had repeatedly blamed Eby and his NDP government for the problems at BC Housing, the two former employees said Ramsay was routinely violating conflict of interest rules long before the BC NDP formed government in 2017.
“It’s hardly surprising that it took a while for the current government to uncover and address the problems there,” said one of the former employees. The conflict violations “would be almost impossible for any outsider to uncover — many reporters, auditors and later boards were never able to get to the bottom of it.”