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Opposition still demanding responses to Sunrise Motel questions

NDP Critic Meara Conway calls for answers after government pushes back their response to FOI requests on policies and hotels used by Social Services.
Opposition critic Meara Conway was demanding answers from Social Services Minister Gene Makowsky on the use of hotels by his ministry.

REGINA - The opposition New Democrats were again demanding a government response to their questions surrounding Social Services payments to a Regina motel owned by Regina Northeast MLA Gary Grewal.

At a media availability Thursday, Opposition Critic Meara Conway accused Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky of failing to respond to two Freedom of Information requests from the Opposition regarding the hotels used by the Ministry.

“Saskatchewan people deserve answers on whether Sask Party MLAs are using the influence of their government to benefit the private businesses of politicians,” said Conway. 

The FOI requests were in connection to the opposition’s continued line of questioning over rates charged by the Sunrise Motel, owned by Grewal, to a Social Services client who stayed there last fall. Last November, the NDP had raised concerns that the motel had twice hiked rates to the Social Services client who stayed there, after it became known that Social Services had offered to pick up the tab. 

Opposition members have accused Grewal of conflict of interest and of benefiting from the hiked motel rates. They grilled the government on the Sunrise Motel situation last fall during Question Period. 

Conway said they posed 46 questions to the government in the Legislature, and that in response to 32 of them Makowsky said he was “endeavouring to get more answers” or was “looking into the situation.”

Conway told reporters that after Makowsky “ducked and dodged” their questions, the Opposition submitted their Freedom of Information requests. 

One FOI request received by Social Services on Dec. 12, 2023 requested access to all approved policies respecting the use of hotels and motels by Social Services clients between Nov. 1 to 30, while the other, also from Dec. 12, sought all materials with respect to hotels or motels recommended or approved by the Ministry of Social Services.

Conway characterized those FOI requests as asking for basic information. Instead of getting the answers they wanted to see, the Opposition received a response from Social Services dated Jan. 11 informing them that the 30 day response period had been extended another 30 days, to Feb. 10. 

That raised alarm bells for Conway, who saw these as stalling tactics.

“Makowsky’s office claimed they do not have enough time to investigate and they kicked the can down the road,” said Conway. “But we know this can’t be true because Makowsky promised answers months earlier, and he said time and time again that he and his officials were looking into it. All the evidence suggests that he’s running interference for a teammate possibly playing dirty.”

Conway said much of this information should be readily available, and should have been provided on day one. She said it raised “serious questions about the Sask Party’s pattern of politicizing and interfering in the Freedom of Information process.”

“The whole thing stinks in my view. We’ve asked questions in the House, we’ve sent letters, we’ve submitted Freedom of Information requests and we’ve got nowhere. Only Minister Makowsky is in a position to shed some light on what’s transpired here…we’re formally calling on him to do so.”

In response to the NDP news conference, Minister Makowsky told reporters Thursday afternoon that in terms of hiding or not wanting to share information, “that’s simply not the case.”

“Ministry officials have been working diligently for the last several weeks and months to compile this information, so that information is being compiled, and that will be released to the Opposition as soon as it’s ready. I understand that will be soon, and in the coming days, that information will be forwarded to the opposition,” said Makowsky. 

“These things do take time, there’s a lot of information that officials have to go through and that process has been underway for a while. But that’s where we’re at. It’s not a ducking out or trying to not do what I’ve committed to. I’ve committed to what the opposition has asked for several times. It’s just a matter of timing. That process is under way.”

Makowsky added that the information being requested is “a lot of information, it’s not just at your fingertips. It’s very large ministry and certainly there’s a lot of things are going on.” He said he wanted to provide a “thorough and comprehensive list of what was asked for… it takes time.”