Saskatchewan’s Official Opposition is alleging that a motel owned by a Saskatchewan Party MLA inflated its price for a room paid for by the Ministry of Social Services — claims the government says are unfounded.
According to the Saskatchewan NDP, on Oct. 27 senior Evelyn Harper was evicted from her government housing unit in Regina.
Facing limited options, Harper found a room at Regina’s Sunrise Motel at a rate of $132.09 a night.
Harper’s plight was highlighted by the NDP and Social Services Minister Gene Makowsky vowed that her costs would be covered by the ministry beginning on Oct. 29.
According to receipts obtained by the NDP, the cost of Harpers room jumped twice – first to $168.55 on Oct. 29 and then to $200 a night on Nov. 1, a 51 per cent increase from the original price.
The NDP’s ethics critic Meara Conway spoke to reporters at an event Wednesday morning – where she demanded answers.
“How is this a good way of spending public dollars? Why is a business owned by a government MLA allowed to profit off of increasing rates by 51 per cent? The people of Saskatchewan deserve answers,” she said.
“At minimum, this raises real concerns around ethics and transparency within this Sask. Party government. At worst, we’re looking at Sask. Party MLAs using their influence within government to benefit their private businesses.”
According to the NDP, an ISC land title shows that the Sunrise Motel is owned by Grewal Hospitality Inc. which is in turn owned by Sask. Party MLA Gary Grewal.
Grewal’s corporate entity report as well as Grewal’s public disclosure forms list the company as a source of income and an asset.
The price of a room at the Sunrise Motel can average from $71.00 to $80.00 per night according to the NDP, who said the motels front desk quoted the $89.00 to $99.00 depending on if the room has one or two beds.
Harper found an alternative housing arrangement on Nov. 10 – with receipts showing provincial taxpayers were charged $200 for the final night.
A government spokesperson quickly issued a news release following the NDP news conference – calling the allegations “unfounded.”
“The NDP are making serious and unfounded allegations based on the fact they dont understand that Social Services doesn’t typically pay damage deposits ,” the statement read, explaining that can lead to higher rates to cover potential damages.
The government also claimed the NDP failed to understand the motel business, saying there is no standard rate for motel rooms – that price fluctuates based on a number of factors including the type of room, demand and availability.
Simrath Kaur, the manager of the Sunrise Motel, told The Canadian Press that the establishment regularly provides rooms to people on social assistance.
She says the higher rates are reflective of the added financial risk when a damage deposit is not provided.
(Some clients) really make them very dirty and (damaged), and sometimes they took our TVs, broke the phone, Kaur said.
She said the motel has different prices depending on the room and availability. She said the starting rate normally is $100.
Kaur confirmed Harper had stayed at the motel and her rate changed even though she was in the same room.
According to Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky – there were several factors that led to the rising costs.
“I know in this case, the ministry did notice the higher costs – my understanding is the hotel said it changed because the month had changed,” he explained.
“With the deposit and then the change and I think there was a consideration for the individual to not want to have to move them around. They had been through a difficult situation with mobility issues.”
The government’s statement noted that Gerwal does not work at or manage the hotel and would not be available for comment.
He is not available to media as his brother passed away earlier today, the statement added.
The Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner of Saskatchewan told CTV News that due to the lack of a contract between Sunrise Motel and the province in this case – there is no conflict of interest.
Regardless, Makowsky said the ministry will look into the rates and how much the Sunrise Motel has been utilized in the past.
“We want to use taxpayer dollars as appropriately as we can,” he said. “With this case, we want to look at those numbers.”
So far this year, the Government of Saskatchewan has spent $850,000 on hotel accommodations for those on social assistance.