QUEEN’S PARK – Today Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, PC Critic for Municipal Affairs and Housing, questioned the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing on affordable housing money used to pay for an 8-day sightseeing trip in South Africa which included a luxury apartment, meals at award winning restaurants, winery tours and a private guide.
“Could the Minister explain how his independent review of the Housing Services Corporation failed to turn up the fact that Housing Services Corporation paid for a board member to go on a luxury 8 day - 7 night sight-seeing trip with private guide and wine tastings in Cape Town, South Africa?” asked Hardeman in the Legislature. “How many more of these examples do we have to have to find before you call in the Auditor – have her open up the books and see if we can get this mess cleaned up?”
A Freedom of Information request to the Housing Services Corporation (HSC) revealed that they paid for a luxury 8 day sightseeing tour in South Africa for HSC board member Diane Deans. Deans travelled to South Africa for 17 days, four of which were spent at a conference. The trip included whale watching, winery tours, and visits to Cape Point Nature Reserve and the prison on Robben Island once home to Nelson Mandela.
HSC also paid for the $5,596 business class flight and her medical insurance for the entire trip. Housing Services Corporation redacted the name of the person who approved the expense.
"How do you justify paying for a luxury sightseeing trip with social housing money knowing it was supposed to go to families who can’t afford to put a roof over their heads?" said Hardeman. "There are 168,000 families on the waiting list for social housing in Ontario, but the government continues to let this rogue housing agency siphon money off for world travel and questionable business deals.”
The Freedom of Information request also contained expenses for board member, Jim Steele, who travelled to the four day conference as well. He stayed for 13 days and expensed the $2,199 flight, $1,472 for the hotel, and the $914 registration. It’s not known whether HSC staff members also attended the conference.
"It’s clear that the lack of oversight has allowed this agency to get out of control," said Hardeman. "We have an opportunity to take action stop the misuse of housing dollars – let social housing providers opt out of HSC if they can get a better price and call in the auditor."
Social Housing providers are required to purchase natural gas and insurance through HSC which funds their operations by marking up the cost of these services. Housing providers have reported that HSC charges them significantly more than if they were allowed to purchase at the best price, including Toronto Community Housing which reported it could have saved $6.3 million on natural gas in a single year. Hamilton reported they could have saved $1.1 million in a year on gas and Stratford reported they could have saved $41,000.