Vancouver Zeitgeist
Reflections on Vancouver, British Columbia and other topics, related or not


Trough-snuffling PHS execs
will get severance packages

Outgoing board approves golden handshakes
for disgraced senior staff

Michael Smyth, Vancouver Province, March 23, 2014

BC NDP Housing critic Jenny Kwan expresses questionable contrition

NDP MLA Jenny Kwan’s announcement
that she is taking a leave of absence leaves
her constituents unrepresented.
(Photo: Jason Payne/PNG)

The limo rides. The $800-a-night hotels. The European jet-setting. The Disneyland vacation. The flowers, spa treatments, parties, booze and restaurant meals.  

And the only thing that makes it worse is knowing the money that paid for it all was supposed to help the poorest of the poor.  

The Portland Hotel Society scandal is one of the most obscene examples of waste and indulgence B.C. has seen.  

The society, with a $28-million budget, was contracted by government to provide services in Canada's poorest postal code: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. That included management of Insite, the country’s only supervised injection site for heroin addicts.  

The devastating audits of the society’s finances—read them for yourself at—triggered the resignations of its senior staff and board of directors last week.  

But there's one final indignity for taxpayers still to come: the executives who quit over the scandal are now set to bag severance packages!  

How much money will outgoing PHS executives Mark Townsend, his wife Liz Evans, Kersten Stuerzbecher and Dan Small (the estranged husband of NDP MLA Jenny Kwan) receive? The government won't say. “I’m not sure,” Health Minister Terry Lake told me, saying the severance payments are part of an agreement to get the executives to quit, avoid messy lawsuits and keep delivering services to the poor without interruption.  

But how rich will the severances be? How are the amounts being calculated? And why is severance being paid at all after the audits revealed a litany of lavish personal spending, missing documentation and shoddy bookkeeping?  

In a written statement, the government told me this: “It was the outgoing board that terminated the executive team and offered them severance packages. Details on those packages still need to be determined.”  

But that “outgoing board” is the same board of directors that quit last week because of the damning findings of the audits. And those audits noted some of the questionable spending also involved the board.  

For example, a society executive charged $678.23 for a limo ride from the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel to Grouse Mountain “and then to a PHS director's house,” said the audit, which describes a stunning lack of board oversight and cozy personal relations between the board and executives.  

And these are the people who approved the severance payments? Incredible.  

Then there’s the matter of Kwan.  

Kwan, the longest-serving NDP MLA in the legislature, said Friday she is personally repaying nearly $35,000 in travel expenses to the society for trips she took with Small, the now-former PHS executive and her now-estranged husband.  

Kwan said the trips were related to society business and Small had assured her that he had paid for the “family portion” of the trips.  

“I trusted that he was telling the truth,” she said.  

You can decide for yourself whether you believe Kwan's explanation, but have no doubt about this: If the tables were turned, and it was a Liberal MLA in the same jam, she would be screaming bloody murder.  

And now Kwan is taking an “unpaid leave of absence” to spend time with her children and heal from the trauma, leaving the people of the Downtown Eastside without an MLA at the very time they need a robust advocate.  

Kwan should have blown the whistle on this scandal, not been part of it. She should resign.  

[end of Michael Smyth column]

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