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Saskatchewan Party MLA’s motel accused of raising rates for social assistance client

REGINA — Saskatchewan’s Opposition NDP has accused a company owned by a member of the legislature of hiking motel rates for a social assistance recipient.

The NDP said Wednesday it’s demanding answers after the Sunrise Motel in Regina increased rates when the Ministry of Social Services started to cover the costs for Evelyn Harper, who was evicted from her government housing unit earlier this year. 

The motel is owned by Saskatchewan Party legislature member Gary Grewal. 

Motel receipts provided by the NDP show Harper paid $132 a night, plus a $200 damage deposit, when she initially checked in on Oct. 27.

However, when the Ministry of Social Services decided to foot the bill on Oct. 29, the receipts show it paid $168 a night.

The motel price then increased again, with the ministry paying $200 a night from Nov. 1 to 3. Social Services also paid $200 a night on Nov. 10. The receipts from Nov. 4 to Nov. 9 weren’t available. 

Meara Conway, the Opposition social services critic, said the price increase raises ethics questions.

“At worst, this raises questions about whether Saskatchewan Party MLAs have used their influence within government to benefit their private businesses,” Conway told reporters. 

“The public deserves answers.”

A government spokesperson said in an email the NDP is making serious allegations it calls unfounded. 

They said the ministry doesn’t typically pay damage deposits, which makes room charges appear higher. 

The spokesperson said Grewal doesn’t work at or manage the motel.

“He is not available to media as his brother passed away earlier today,” they said. 

Simrath Kaur, the motel’s manager, told The Canadian Press it regularly provides rooms for people on social assistance. 

She said the ministry doesn’t pay security deposits and that the higher rates help cover potential damages to rooms.

“(Some clients) really make them very dirty and (damaged), and sometimes they took our TVs, broke the phone,” Kaur said. 

She said the motel has different prices depending on the room and availability. She said the starting rate normally is $100.

Kaur confirmed Harper had stayed at the motel and that her rate changed even though she was in the same room. Harper has since found other accommodations. 

Conway said she’s considering raising the matter with the conflict of interest commissioner. 

She said the government’s explanation that it doesn’t pay damage deposits is unsatisfactory. 

Conway said what social services paid in extra costs was more than what Harper paid in her damage deposit. She said Harper has not received her deposit back. 

“If the ministry of social services is agreeing to that rate, I would have concerns about the use of public funds in that regard,” she said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2023.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press