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Federal government to review Atira Women's Resource Society in aftermath of BC Housing audit

A report found former BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay shifted funding to Atira Women’s Resource Society, which is led by his wife Janice Abbott
Photo from a 2019 government funding announcement. B.C. provided $8.3 million to build an affordable rental building for women in need, to be operated by Atira

The non-profit at the centre of the BC Housing nepotism scandal is now the subject of a federal review. 

Atira Women’s Resource Society CEO Janice Abbott, who is married to former BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay, was appointed to the board of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) in 2020 for a three-year term. 

Ramsay announced Aug. 2 that he would retire from BC Housing on Sept. 6. That was also the day that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $1.4 billion CMHC loan to Senakw, the Squamish Nation tower development around the south end of the Burrard Bridge. Three weeks later, on Sept. 27, Ramsay was announced as the executive vice-president of Squamish Nation-owned Nch’kay Development. 

A Tuesday statement from the Office of the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion said the CMHC board is not involved in awarding national housing strategy funding. 

“However, as a precautionary measure, Minister [Ahmed] Hussen has already directed CMHC to review Atira. Minister Hussen will also be asking the chair of the CMHC board of directors to look into this to ensure all rules were followed by CMHC board members at all times.”

A statement released late Monday night by the Atira board of directors said it “remains confident that its CEO and senior management will guide the organization through these challenges and make required improvements to Atira’s operations and administration.”

Squamish Nation council chair Khelsilem did not respond to questions about the council’s reaction to Monday’s BC Housing report and whether Ramsay has the nation’s confidence. 

Atira’s board includes two BC Hydro executives, corporate secretary Amy McCallion and CFO adviser Taha Rizwan. Neither has responded for comment.

Squamish Nation spokesperson Marc Riddell referred questions to Nch’kay, but its CEO, Mindy Wight, has not yet responded. Nch’kay’s chair is Joy MacPhail, the former NDP leader who chairs BC Ferries. 

The Ernst and Young report for the Office of the Comptroller General found Ramsay subverted conflict of interest rules and shifted contracts and funding to Atira without a competitive process. Ramsay had agreed in writing in 2010 to a conflict-of-interest protocol to manage the business side of his relationship with Abbott. 

Since 2019, Atira’s funding outpaced other agencies, culminating in 2022 when it received $35 million more than the next-biggest funding recipient. 

“BC Housing’s financial reviews of Atira have been substantially delayed,” the report said. “The most recently completed financial review was for fiscal year 2020, which was finalized in August 2022.”

The report also said that Ramsay modified meeting minutes and routinely deleted text messages, despite explicit instructions from the Office of the Comptroller General to preserve records.