Saskatchewan's Opposition NDP is questioning the rates the province paid for a social services client to stay at a Regina motel owned by Saskatchewan Party MLA Gary Grewal, but the provincial government says the Opposition is making "unfounded allegations."
The NDP invited Evelyn Harper to the legislature to tell her story of being evicted from a government care home and moving into the Sunrise Motel temporarily.
Harper has now found stable housing, but was staying at the motel from Oct. 27 to Nov. 10.
Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky offered to pay Harper's motel bills as of Oct. 29.
Opposition NDP MLA Meara Conway said the bills rose dramatically after the province started footing the bill.
Conway said social services requisition forms show Harper paid $132 for the first night, but that the price rose to $168.55 per night from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1. Conway said the price then rose to $200 from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3. She said a requisition form from Nov. 10 shows Harper was charged $200 for her final night.
"Ms. Harper did not change rooms, she did not receive any additional services from Sunrise staff. The facts show the only difference is the Ministry of Social Services got involved and offered to foot the bill with taxpayer dollars," Conway said.
"How is this a good way of spending public dollars? And why is a business owned by a government MLA allowed to profit off of increasing rates 51 per cent?"
Evylyn Harper was homeless after being evicted from government housing. She stayed at the Sunrise Motel and was charged up to $200 per night during her stay. (CBC)
Conway said the NDP called Sunrise Motel for a nightly quote and was told the rates range from $89 per night to $99.
"Why did Gary Grewal's Sunrise Motel jack up the rates as soon as the Ministry of Social Services began paying? How many social services clients have been referred to the Sunrise Motel?" she asked.
Conway said the issue raises questions of ethics and whether government MLAs are using their influence to personally benefit their private businesses.
She said that under the MLA Conflict of Interest Act, there is a provision that prohibits MLAs from entering into government contracts. She said the Opposition may raise the issue with the conflict of interest commissioner.
Conway said Harper was also charged a damage deposit of $200, which she has not received back.
The government provided a statement following the NDP news conference.
"The NDP is making serious and unfounded allegations based on the fact they don't understand that Social Services doesn't typically pay damage deposits — even though it was a part of their media presentation today."
The statement said motel room rate costs fluctuate "based on a number of factors including the type of room requested, demand and availability."
"Specific to this situation, all regular guests must provide a $200 damage deposit. However, Social Services does not typically pay damage deposits, which amounts in room charges being restated, appearing higher than when Social Services does not pay the cost."
The Sask. Party said Regina Northeast MLA Gary Grewal was not available to answer questions on Wednesday due to the death of his brother. (Alexander Quon/CBC)
The government said Grewal does not "work at or manage the motel" and was unable to speak to media Wednesday due to a death in his family.
The motel's manager told The Canadian Press it regularly provides rooms for people on social assistance and that the ministry doesn't pay security deposits. They said the higher rates help cover potential damage to rooms.
In question period, Makowsky said the Opposition was attempting to disparage Grewal.
"Anyone who has tried to book a hotel on weekends or certain times of the year, I don't know in this case exactly, but hotel rates do fluctuate from time to time, but it's disappointing the NDP is impugning an honourable member of this house."
Makowsky said the government does not have a contract with Sunrise Motel, but has used it in the past to house clients. He said he was informed the price had climbed because the month had changed.
"There are times when there is an emergency situation and we can't get the best deal out there because there is an influx or it is a time of year when hotel rooms are at a premium," Makowsky told reporters Wednesday afternoon.