Not only has the non-profit destroyed its reputation, but it’s put the government’s entire system into question

Pete McMartin: The Portland Hotel Society -- Oh. My. God.

Marc Townsend has resigned as executive director of the Portland Hotel Society, which runs Insite, Vancouver’s safe injection site. This follows an audit of the non-profit.


I don’t know where to start.

There’s just so much that jumps out at you that’s egregious, hilariously improbable and, in the context of a social welfare agency the efforts of which should be entirely concentrated on the poor and marginalized, obscene.

Almost $9,000 in limousine charges. In one year.

Stays at the best hotel rooms — some of them approaching $900 a night — in Paris, Istanbul, Ottawa, Vienna, Los Angeles, New York City. (Personally, I can’t afford to stay at the Plaza.)

Almost $70,000 in restaurant bills! Charges for flowers! A trip to freaking Disneyland! A $900 baby shower! A $7,024.72 Celebration of Life for a deceased employee! Monthly expenses of $1,600 charged by the executive directors for use of office space within their personal residence! I am running out of exclamation marks and italics and I’m beginning to hyperventilate!

Appalling. Indefensible. And all of it conducted within a corporate culture where the accounting was seemingly written on a napkin. The audit and financial review of the Portland Housing Society by Vancouver Coastal Health and BC Housing make for the best reading of the year, if you like horror stories.

For instance:

“We found no evidence that the PHS Board is monitoring or authorizing PHS executive management expenses and payroll advance.”


“We also identified approximately $9,600 in apparent cash advances over the three-year period of our review for which we were unable to obtain any supporting receipts and documentation.”


“We found there to be insufficient recognition of the risks, potential contractual issues, governance and oversight considerations associated with the various non-arms length relationships that exist with the Affiliates (of the Portland Hotel Society) and other organizations.”


“In numerous instances, interviewees seemed unwilling to provide details (attendees, dates of travel) regarding expenses and other matters they believed were unrelated to the operation of BC Housing funded buildings.”

It goes on. And on. I could fill up the paper with quotes that inspire reactions ranging from mildly eye-raising to you-have-got-to-be-effing-kidding-me.

The shame of it is, the PHS hasn’t just destroyed its own reputation — which is a pity in some respects because even the auditors allowed that its work was often exceptional — but it has put into question the government’s entire system of the contracting out of work to the province’s other taxpayer-funded social welfare projects, some 700 in total.

If the province’s largest and most visible such agency can botch its bookkeeping so badly, then what of the others, most of which haven’t the organizational resources at their disposal that the Portland Hotel Society did?

Further, it casts doubt, and maybe lasting damage, on the experiment in social engineering in the Downtown Eastside that our three levels of government have been conducting for the last several decades.

Tax dollars were funding baby showers as well as social housing? Were the babies minding the cash box? The PHS just confirmed every smirking comment ever made by critics carping about poverty pimps and the poverty industry.

Finally, where was the government all this time?

Read more: