Wednesday, March 26, 2014

In support of Jenny Kwan, BC NDP MLA, who has done the right thing in difficult Portland Hotel Society situation

NDP MLA Jenny Kwan - centre - Bill Tieleman at right - at Fight HST rally with other NDP MLAs, September 2009
Much has already been said about the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the devastating audit of the Portland Hotel Society and in particular about BC NDP MLA Jenny Kwan - Vancouver Mount Pleasant - and her connection to the PHS audit.

Jenny immediately repaid nearly $35,000 to cover all possible costs of two trips where she and her family accompanied her former husband Dan Small - who was a PHS executive member and director of policy and research for the non-profit.  

That repayment, as outlined in her statement on March 21,  included his own travel costs - despite being assured that Jenny and her children's travel had been paid personally by Small.  

She did that to ensure that the Portland Hotel Society was in no way paying for her family's travel - it is a principled move that I admire, particularly knowing that the PHS books are such an unfathomable mess there may never be a way to sort out who paid what.

It is important to know that at the time of travel, Jenny personally paid for and produced receipts for the trip to Disneyland in California, and that Small only was responsible for a room upgrade.  

Let's be blunt - Jenny is a friend whom I greatly respect. 

If she did nothing else in her life but be one of two brave NDP MLAs - with the formidable Joy MacPhail - facing 77 howling, horrible BC Liberals after the 2001 election, raising enormous issues and fighting for social justice - she would have earned my admiration forever.

But she has been outspoken before that on Vancouver City Council and since then as an MLA, representing some of the poorest people in Canada. 


Those who criticize Jenny for trusting her spouse's word on these expenses should first consider if they have not done exactly the same. 

They should then ask - what politician would risk their reputation and career over 2 trips?

Next, ask if someone paying $35,000 in expenses she did not knowingly incur, including those of her ex-husband, is not being honourable?

There is a lot of second-guessing going on and some partisan sniping outside and inside the BC NDP but the expectation that Jenny Kwan should know more about the operations of Portland Hotel Society than the entire provincial government that funded PHS to the tune of up to $29 million a year for the past 13 years is both astonishing and ridiculous. 


In reality, this astonishing lack of accountability on the part of the BC government despite the obvious fact that the Portland Hotel Society was a high-profile, controversial and major recipient of taxpayer dollars should have screamed for attention.  

Yet it was clearly ignored.

None of this is to negate the incredibly valuable work that PHS has done in the downtown eastside.  

I respect the work done to help the poorest and most vulnerable citizens perhaps in our whole country. And I strong recommend you read a powerful piece from a PHS worker giving their perspective - which hasn't been heard in much of the media.

If you have doubts about where you stand on this, here's the take-away:

Jenny Kwan went on two trips with her partner and family.

She paid for one, except for hotel upgrades her partner said he paid for.

On the other trip, to Europe where her partner was speaking at a conference, he said he paid for the family's expenses personally.

When it turned out from the KPMG audit that there was absolutely no record or her partner having personally paid for family travel, Jenny Kwan paid all of it herself, including for her now ex-partner's share.

That in my book is honourable, it is respectful of taxpayers and the vulnerable people served by the Portland Hotel Society.

Those who carp that "she should have known" or that "she should have demanded receipts from her partner" are simply not being realistic or fair.  

As Jenny said at her news conference, being in a relationship requires a degree of trust, something those of us who have travelled with spouses can attest to. 

Ultimately, this is a sad personal situation for Jenny and to go through it in public with such vitriolic comments is an ordeal most of us will never face.

The BC NDP's longest serving MLA, the only Chinese-Canadian MLA in their caucus, someone who along with Joy MacPhail faced the most lopsided BC Legislature in history and did so with honour and courage is worthy of our understanding, not to be trashed.

I continue to support Jenny Kwan - as a dedicated MLA who fights for social justice and will keep doing so despite this challenge because she has earned my respect through her actions over the last 20 years.

.


22 comments:

Anonymous said...

agreed. I notice the hypocrites out there blasting Kwan even though she did nothing wrong are conveniently silent now that BC Liar House Speaker Linda Reid has admitted to dipping into the public trough to pay for first class vacation flights for her spouse, even though she knew it was wrong.

Why the difference? Because they don't care about stealing money or taking advantage of people. That's part of their corporate capitalist ideology. Rather, it's because they love to use guilt by association to attack someone they don't like regardless of her innocence. That's also part of their ideology.

Anonymous said...
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Raj Patara said...

Well said, Bill!

Anonymous said...

Why did Coleman wait EIGHT months to release the audit?

tedzsee said...

As a teacher, the very first thing I noticed about this was how LUCRATIVE it must be to be a politician. I don't personally have $35,000 sitting around in a bank account for unexpected expenses. Must be nice to give yourself your own raises!!

Anonymous said...

Come on Bill, you're being disingenuous. Allow me to counter some of your points:

- Jenny Kwan repaid the money because she was caught, full stop. Honorable? Hardly, a simple calculation shows that it's a whole lot cheaper to pay $35,000 back than to risk losing her salary or impacting her pension.

- As many many people have pointed out, her comments that she "was assured" by her husband that he paid for those things simply don't ring true. Why on earth would that conversation even take place? A more believable response from her would be that she simply assumed he paid out of his money and why on earth would she question it? That's what someone who truly was unaware would say. But to come out and insist that she asked him, and he assured her, and that there was an element of trust - well those comments are simply odd.

Paying back the money and then quickly disappearing from the media view is becoming standard procedure for politicians.

John Fryer said...

Jenny Kwan is and was never the problem at PHS. But the co Executive Directors and Jenny's ex certainly were. It is scandalous that they were allowed to slide out with severance pay and god knows what other benefits when they should have charged with theft. And BTW who are these do gooder Board members who sat by while all this egregious thievery was going on??

scotty on denman said...

Right on, Bill.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your article and wholeheartedly support Jenny. Some complain that she should have asked for more proof from her spouse while others complain that asking what she did ask shows her guilt. My question to all these complainers is How the hell do you know how people handle their family finances? Do you pay or check your bills the same way as your neighbour? Or even your own brother? I would wager not. Being in her position, it would be natural to ask if he separated the costs so that she wouldn't be facing what she is facing now. Being married, she should be allowed to assume that he told her the truth. And does anyone know for sure exactly why or how Dan did or didn't pay for his trips? Was he the one doing the books? I assume not so who was and why did they reimburse him for those expenses? Who approved and made the payments? That's the person everyone should be talking to.

Anonymous said...

Needs a rethink and a step back. How is it that Jenny saw this free trip and took it in the first place? Given that her ex: was with the PHS, did she actually question the validity of those trips? It would seem rather odd the receive a trip like that from PHS, and why Disneyland?

If some equivalent thing had happened that involved someone from the BC Liberals or Conservatives the Left Wing would be squealing loudly and doing the heavy heaving in and out.

and why at the outset she didn't have any comment on the Thursday and let Shane Simpson do the talking?

A real hypocrisy here. And no I do not support Linda Reid and her sense of entitlement. On that subject let's look at Raj Chouhan too.

Anonymous said...

Just think for 1 min.... what if the exact same situation happened with a member of a party that you don't like...? There would be outrage from you bunch, Disney-gate, calls to resign, etc....
Very biased opinion, it's sad that one can be defined by a political ideology. Total double standard.

Richard Hughes said...

Well stated Bill. Jenny is a person of integrity and deserves fair treatment of this issue.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't there I don't know what happened and I sure as hell don't trust the media to get to the details because journalism is so sloppy now days and ethically bereft. Speaking of ethical journalism should you have recused yourself from writing this because of a perceived appearance bias/conflict?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your article and wholeheartedly support Jenny. Some complain that she should have asked for more proof from her spouse while others complain that asking what she did ask shows her guilt. My question to all these complainers is How the hell do you know how people handle their family finances? Do you pay or check your bills the same way as your neighbour? Or even your own brother? I would wager not. Being in her position, it would be natural to ask if he separated the costs so that she wouldn't be facing what she is facing now. Being married, she should be allowed to assume that he told her the truth. And does anyone know for sure exactly why or how Dan did or didn't pay for his trips? Was he the one doing the books? I assume not so who was and why did they reimburse him for those expenses? Who approved and made the payments? That's the person everyone should be talking to.

Anonymous said...

To all those wondering why the big trips, they went to Disneyland and splurged on the European trips because they wanted to finally create some happy family memories after he almost died and was left with a serious and permanent heart condition. It pains me to see such good people under attack by ignorant self-righteous morons. The costs in question for Disneyland was for a room upgrade, not the entire trip. Who can go to Disneyland for $2600? It's amazing how badly the facts in this story have been distorted.

Anonymous said...

The fact remains that Jenny should not have gone on the free trip in the first place. Splurging on the European trip while poverty stricken people in the DTES need help? Definately something wrong there. If it was someone who is a known supporter of the BC Liberals or Conservatives did something equivalent the NDP would be screaming loudly.

I've gone to Disnleyland on $1500 of my own money,

Anonymous said...

The report was dated July 2013 and given to the PHS board (and her then husband)at that time. Jenny made no attempt to repay the funds until 9 months later when the news was released to the public!!!!!

Even if she didn't know that funds were not being paid personally, how about the other $850,000 in Visa expenses which the PHS has refused to give receipts for. So Jenny thought is was OK for her husband to spend money designated for the poor traveling around the world and eating at the best places in town.Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:27 today:

I agree 100%. If this had been somehow a similar situation with a known BC Liberal, federal Liberal or Conservative supporter, the Left would be screaming from the mountaintops.

To see an MLA who supposedly is an advocate for the unfortunate take free trips like this is disgusting.

Even more so when she "hides" on an unpaid leave. She receives over $100,000 a year. She does not live in Arbutus or Point Grey, so she could have easily paid for the trip on her own if she wanted take herself and the kids with her now ex.

and it's also interesting that in 2011, an audit found a small amount discrepancy which was resolved, but two years later there were these huge lavish expenses. Would Bill dig deep as to the cause and why? Probably not.

Bill tripped over this one.

and so did his friends at The Tyee. There's been little about the PHS from them, which isn't surprising.

and this is just what we know about. How long has this been going on? Did she go on other trips in previous years??

Not NDP, Not Liberal, Just a voter and taxpayer said...

As a taxpayer I am so disgusted with this whole affair. What bothers me is Ms. Kwan's choice of words at news conference. Anyone who has to be "assured" is telling me she had doubts and suspicion from the very onset, yet she went on the trips. The only reason why she is coming forward now is because of the audit...Would she have repaid the money without the audit disclosure? I think not. She must resign her seat, take time with her family and then focus on rebuilding her reputation. She should not be allowed back into NDP caucus for any reason and especially as the Housing critic. Her problem is not the taxpayers fault...it is her own. I distrust any politican who readily points the finger to someone else to divert the attention. She was not dragged kicking and screaming on the plane...she went willingly. Her future is in her hands, not the taxpayers, not the NDP party or the B.C. Government...she has to use her common sense and do the right thing.......in my opinion that is resigning and starting over again sometime in the future when all her personal problems are done and over.

e.a.f. said...

some one should have a look at Stephen harper's expenses and all that flying around he, his family, other and friends do on the government Challenger. Yup, that's the same one he was so hot under the collar about while he was in opposition. Oh, and when it gets used by him and his, they reimburse the government at a rate the Conservative Party decided on. About the same as a bus or train ticket. That plane is more lux than Jimmy Paterson's is. And yes, the Paterson Group paid for it themselves.

this is just something the lieberals threw out there to divert attention from the NDP leadership race. People obviously have forgotten about Christy Clark's expenses when she went to china. Like how about those $800 a night hotel rooms and what was that for breakfast room service, oh right that was $700 for one breakfast in her room.

We ought not to forget Rich Coleman sat on that report for how long was that again, how many days, months, more than a yr you say. How interesting. Who really knows what it was all about but kwan paid back the money and that's that. All those who want her thrown out of her position, etc. get real. Have a look at what the P.M., the P.M.O. have done with our tax $s for travel, yes even to go fishing Peter Mackay.

Anonymous said...

e.a.f, what does that have to do with Jenny Kwan taking a free trip from PHS? Harper does not take his kids on government flights. If you believe such nonsense, show a direct source link.

and you honestly believe the BC Liberals threw this out to take attention away from the NDP Leadership?

Take the blinders off, and get into reality. Jenny Kwan took a free trip that she should never have taken in the first place.

are you that blindly loyal to Jenny Kwan? No wonder the NDP is in such a mess.

Anonymous said...

I see Jenny Kwan's tearful leave of absence was just two weeks. Pathetic.

If a similar situation had happened with a BC Liberal MLA, the NDP would be freaking out, still. In fact it would be her amongst the others such as Shane Simpson that would be tearing the BC Liberal government apart.

What a hypocrite she is. She should have taken longer. That leave of absence? Did that mean she missed a paycheque? Did the taxpayers pay the two weeks she was gone?