The Saskatchewan government is changing the process for how it acquires hotel rooms for social services clients.
The move came on Friday and would disqualify hotels owned by MLAs.
It came after the Opposition NDP asked for a full accounting of how much the government has spent on hotels in recent years, including stays at the Sunrise Motel, owned by Regina Northeast MLA Gary Grewal.
His hotel was the recipient of the most money paid to a Regina hotel by the government during the last full fiscal year (2022-23), according to information from the Ministry of Social Services supplied in response to a request by the NDP.
On Friday, Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky said the government would be changing its policy to require hotels to submit to a request for proposals (RFP) process and then enter into a contract with the government to accommodate clients. Makowsky said it would be a one-year pilot.
"We're going to attempt to go to the market and see if there's interest in having a block of hotel rooms both in Regina and Saskatoon at a set rate for one year, and to do damage deposits along with that, and see what we're able to come up with."
Makowsky said a formalized contract would prevent the government from entering into an RFP with the Sunrise Motel as long as Grewal remains an MLA.
Regina Northeast MLA Gary Grewal owns the Sunrise Motel, which would now be disqualified from entering into an RFP with the government as long as Grewal remains an MLA. (Alexander Quon/CBC)
Makowsky said the ministry will also seek the best deal on a day-to-day basis by comparing prices.
"We are going to ask that either the ministry themselves or our third-party, after-hours contracted providers get three quotes before going forward with booking a room."
'Hotels are not the answer'
The government's policy announcement came on the heels of its release of information requested by the Opposition NDP about spending on hotels for social services clients.
Opposition NDP social services critic Meara Conway said the documents show the government is relying more and more on a "reactive, expensive" approach to problems arising from its income assistance and housing policies.
"These are reactive solutions to the growing homelessness and poverty and mental health and addiction crises we're seeing out there," she told reporters on Friday. "Hotels are not the answer. They're not the answer. They're expensive. They're reactive. They will not get at any of the root causes of these issues."
She said the documents also show the government "misled" the public when the issue came into the spotlight during the fall sitting of the legislature.
"The Minister said hotel usage was down but these documents clearly show we're spending increasing amounts on hotels and it's trending upwards each year," Conway said in a statement.
$220K went to MLA-owned hotel in 2022-23
The government documents disclosed on Friday were prepared in response to a request from Conway.
In early November, the NDP invited Evelyn Harper to the legislature to tell her story of being evicted from a government care home and moved into the Sunrise Motel temporarily. She stayed at the motel from Oct. 27 to Nov. 10.
Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky offered to pay Harper's motel bills as of Oct. 29. Conway said the bills rose dramatically after the province started footing the bill.
This led to questions from Conway during debate asking for the amount the government had paid to Grewal's hotel and others.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services calculations of what it has spent on hotel stays going back to 2018-19. The ministry said some years are not the full amount due to inaccessible data. (Government of Saskatchewan)
Friday's documents include the totals for how much the government spent on hotel stays for social services clients dating back to 2018-19. However, it indicated the data for the first three fiscal years was incomplete due to "inaccessible data from older systems."
For the years with complete data, Grewal's Sunrise Motel received $37,041 in 2021-22 and $220,474 in 2022-23. In the first six months of 2023-24 (April to September 2023), the Sunrise Motel received $110,887.