NDP MLA Jenny Kwan says she was “as shocked as anyone” by revelations that the government-funded Portland Hotel Society paid for trips taken by her family.
The five-term MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant told reporters that she is repaying over $34,922 out of her own pocket for travel expenses related to trips to Disneyland and Europe, even though it’s not clear how much of that was funded by PHS or the public.
Kwan also announced that she is taking a leave of absence to be with her children.
“Even though I don’t have all of the information around our expenses, I’m going to take responsibility for them and pay for them,” Kwan said today (March 21). “These monies and these expenses should go to support the people in the community.”
Kwan made the remarks at an emotional news conference in Vancouver, a day after she issued a statement admitting that she went on two trips in 2012 that were flagged in damning audits of PHS, which employed her ex-husband as a senior manager.
PHS is a charity that operates Vancouver’s supervised injection site and several social housing projects in the Downtown Eastside.
The pair of audits—released by B.C. Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health following the resignations of PHS senior managers and board members this week—exposed numerous irregularities with regard to credit card use, vacation pay, travel and entertainment expenses, and payments to affiliate companies.
According to Kwan, her ex-husband Dan Small—who was forced out as PHS’s director of policy, research, and fund development—told her that he had paid for the family’s travel expenses when he took them along on a business trip to Bristol and Vienna.
Kwan said she paid for a package vacation to Disneyland with her own credit card, and Small informed her that he had bought a hotel upgrade upon their arrival in Anaheim.
The MLA claimed that she found out with the release of the audits that the hotel upgrade cost almost $2,700, while travel expenses for the Europe trip totalled over $32,000.
“I had no idea what the amounts were and about the payments,” Kwan said. “He reassured me that the payments were made by him, and I accepted that. In a relationship there is an element of trust.”
Kwan and Small have separated and are in the process of filing for divorce. According to Kwan, they maintained separate banking accounts.
The MLA said she’s asked the “individuals involved” to tell her how much PHS spent on her family’s travel, but hasn’t received this information.
“Given the findings of the audit, it is clear to me that their accounting system is deficient, and I’m not at all confident that they’ll be able to provide me with this information,” Kwan said. “I strongly believe that the travel expense incurred by my family should not be paid for or perceived to be paid for by the society. I’m therefore repaying the full amount identified in the audit that either my ex-husband and/or my family is associated with.”
Kwan didn’t know how long her leave of absence would last. She said she hasn’t considered resigning her seat in the legislature.
“I can’t tell you how upsetting this is to me, and how truly sorry I am that this has occurred,” Kwan said.
Vancouver Coastal Health’s audit, dated February 26, cited several “questionable” expenses at PHS, including the Disneyland trip.
“Between 5/21/2012 and 5/23/2012, transactions totaling $2,694.95 were noted for the Disney Resort Grand Anaheim. The receipt detailed a hotel reservation for 2 adults and 2 children. PHS management stated that a hotel room was upgraded to accommodate a staff member in poor health as staff appreciation. Through further inquiries IAS found the staff member noted was one of the Directors (management) of PHS,” the VCH report states.
According to the other audit, prepared by KPMG Forensic for B.C. Housing and dated July 2013, PHS had total revenue of $28 million in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Government funding that year was estimated at $23 million, or 82 percent.
On Thursday (March 20), Kwan issued a statement saying that she was “concerned” by the PHS audit findings relating to her family’s travel expenses.
“I never would have gone had I known that the family portion of the travel would appear to have been be paid for by PHS,” Kwan said in the statement.
“I trust that my former partner will address the findings and take appropriate action to ensure that the PHS is reimbursed for any expenses related to family travel.
“And if he doesn’t, then I will.”
Today, Kwan had this to say about Small: “I trusted that he was telling the truth.”