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B.C. Premier David Eby speaks in Vancouver on Dec. 14, 2022. Eby dismissed BC Housing board members after they refused to fire its CEO when shown evidence of possible conflicts of interest.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Former members of BC Housing’s board of directors are challenging Premier David Eby’s assertion that he had to dismiss them after they refused to fire CEO Shayne Ramsay when they were presented with evidence that he had violated conflict-of-interest rules.

In continuing revelations about the province’s housing agency and its former chief executive officer, the departed board members say they were given a report last year – one that hasn’t yet been revealed to the public – that they say had allegations but no hard evidence about Mr. Ramsay’s possible conflicts of interest in dealing with funding and contracts for Atira Women’s Resource Society, a non-profit run by his wife, Janice Abbott, which has grown to be the largest in the province.

News of that report emerged late last week. Mr. Eby at first said it didn’t exist and then acknowledged that it did. The revelation prompted another round of criticisms by the Leader of the Official Opposition Kevin Falcon, who accused Mr. Eby of hiding things.

But some previous board members say the report was problematic because the evidence about Mr. Ramsay was anonymous and uncorroborated. So they hired an outside lawyer to decide what to do and that lawyer’s advice was to institute a more rigorous process to decide if Mr. Ramsay should be placed on leave or dismissed. When they told the Premier that’s what they’d be doing, they were fired.

And at least one board member is saying that Mr. Eby’s move to dismiss the whole board, blame them for doing nothing and continue to cast doubt on BC Housing management seems more like a calculated political move than a genuine effort to improve anything.

“This is political interference for political gain. To make himself look good, he created a fire and put it out,” Perry Staniscia said. He said it appears the Premier wants to be able to say that he’s the saviour of the day.

Mr. Staniscia and former board chair Cassie Doyle said that the as-yet-unreleased Ernst & Young report was done at the request of the Comptroller-General after E & Y’s first report on BC Housing’s general operations was completed last spring. That request came after the auditing company noted in its first report that many former staff interviewed had raised issues that weren’t within the scope of the original review.

But, the board members said, the evidence in the second report, dated June 20, 2022, was not something their lawyers felt was strong enough to protect BC Housing from a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit from Mr. Ramsay if they proceeded only on that basis.

The board’s outside law firm had told them “the work in the report was procedurally incomplete and it was unfair,” said Ms. Doyle, who has been a deputy minister in both the federal and B.C. governments. “The evidence was really flimsy. It was really clear the report was flawed.”

She noted that all of the allegations made by others in that second report were anonymous and that E & Y had not done any work to try to corroborate anything. As well, the firm did not interview either Mr. Ramsay or the board about the allegations that Mr. Ramsay directly intervened in management or board decisions about giving contracts to Atira.

Both she and Mr. Staniscia said the board was concerned that a report about conflict and relationships had been done by an accounting firm with no real experience of dealing with that kind of issue. The board was preparing to hire a Victoria woman with expertise in examining organizational conflict of interest.

“We wanted a true audit by an expert because it was serious stuff. It was wrong if that’s what he did,” said Mr. Staniscia, who said that any violation of the conflict-of-interest rules was deplorable. “It didn’t mean that Shayne wouldn’t end up being fired. We just didn’t want to act on a whim.”

Neither Ms. Doyle nor Mr. Staniscia could say with certainty how the most recent E & Y report, released last week, differed from the second one in its allegations about Mr. Ramsay because no one was allowed to keep a copy of the second one.

The two also noted that, contrary to what Ernst & Young summaries and the Premier said, the board had already taken action to strengthen conflict-of-interest guidelines, replacing the existing one-page policy covering Mr. Ramsay with a much more detailed one.

They say that no staff ever came to them expressing any concerns at all, even though the board had done a thorough review as part of Mr. Ramsay’s performance assessment.

“Not one of the BC Housing staff who was directly influenced by Shayne came to the board. We would have been on it,” Mr. Staniscia said.

In the latest developments in the saga, the board of Atira, which has refused to fire Ms. Abbott in spite of being urged to by the new chair of BC Housing, has returned $1.9-million in surplus money to the agency. It has also said it will conduct its own review of Atira.

And Mr. Ramsay, who was hired as executive vice-president at the development agency of the Squamish Nation, left the organization last week, according to statements from Nch’ḵay̓ Development Corporation.