The long-awaited forensic audit of BC Housing is highlighting several conflicts of interest between the former CEO of the housing corporation and its largest contractor, which is headed by his wife.
But this finding about the relationship between Shayne Ramsey, who resigned as CEO in September 2022, and his spouse, Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira Womens Resource Society, is likely not the last word about the recent culture at the Crown corporation.
EY, (Ernst and Young) was ordered by then-housing minister David Eby in the summer 2022 to perform a forensic audit on the firm, which is responsible for developing, managing and administering subsidized housing with a budget of $2 billion.
The audit from EY released Monday (May 8) found “numerous instances” where Ramsey made decisions that benefited Atira, but not directly himself or Abbott. Ramsey became CEO of BC Housing in 2000, Abbott has headed Attira since 1992 and their relationship started in 2010.
The EY report was unable to find evidence of criminal activity, but acknowledges that it “may not have detected any or all fraudulent activities or illegal acts,” because auditors did not have access to all information. Some financial documents are currently unavailable because they are incomplete, while others were not made available.
Other information, including text messages between Ramsay and chief financial officer Abbas Barodawalla — who was fired for breach of conduct — were deleted, or altered, as were some BC Housing meeting minutes. Other individuals were either unavailable or unwilling to provide statements to EY, which also lacked access to Atira banking records.
Now premier, Eby said more work lies ahead as he condemned the behaviour of the central figures.
“The public needs to have confidence that rules are being followed, that a company or a non-profit organization that has a connection to a public servant does not get an advantage, because of that connection, whether it is personal, whether it is family, where it is a romantic relationship,” he said.
“The rules have to be followed and in this case, there was an explicit conflict of interest requirement on the CEO and on BC Housing that was not respected, and was, in fact, actively circumvented,” he said.
The report went on to find existing policies to manage the conflict of interest were “ineffective,” adding that rules were broken several times.
This lack of action “resulted in a culture, whereby it was deemed acceptable to tolerate non-compliance with (conflict-of-interest) policies,” the report reads. Mismanagement of the conflict of interest had “permeated” throughout BC Housing.
“Furthermore, the cultural implications appear to have resulted in Atira receiving preferential treatment from BC Housing and being offered greater access to public funds than similar (providers),” it reads.
The report finds that Atira received at least $90 million in public funds between the end of fiscal year and the completion of BC Housing’s most recent financial review and received $35 million more than the next highest provider in 2022 as it bypassed BC Housing’s standard approval channels and directly approached senior members of BC Housing for funding and other requests.
The report identifies at least 27 cases where the former CEO directly involved himself in matters concerning Atira through other BC Housing employees.
The public first heard of this forensic audit in late November 2022, shortly after Eby became premier, but months after he had fired the BC Housing board shortly after receiving the first EY report.
Eby revealed Monday that he wanted the then-board to either fire or place Ramsey on leave after first learning of the conflict of interest — which did not make the initial EY report — through text messages.
When asked why Eby did not reveal his desire to remove Ramsey from his post after firing the board, Eby said the investigation prevented him from revealing the “gap” between his assessment of Ramsey and the board’s assessment.
“We needed a board at BC Housing that would be in place able to do that heavy lifting,” he said.
BC United’s Karin Kirkpatrick said Monday that Eby has consistently avoided accountability for his time as housing minister.
“This has been a long time coming and I would, however, like to remind the Premier and this Minister of Housing that this is a two-term government and the mismanagement at B.C. Housing has occurred on their watch,” she said in the legislature Monday morning.
She later pointed to the incomplete nature of the report.
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said his ministry will implement all 20 recommendations arising from the report.
Government will also restrict new funding to AWRS and the Atira Development Society and suspend renewal of all agreements until completion of an operational review, which will involve a physical inspection of all buildings operated by Aitra.
The Atira group of organizations operates more than 1,900 housing units, many of them serving vulnerable populations.
Eby said government will ensure that they continue to receive support, adding that Atira frontline staff have done nothing wrong.
Black Press Media has reached out to both Ramsay and Abbott.