At first, Special Ed's response was to get his Municipal Affairs Minister King Kong Danyluk to threaten to use some of his ample muscle to get some avaricious landlords in line. When it was pointed out that there were too many of them for even a hulk like Danyluk to push around, he went for the legislative solution. He would help ripped off and suffering tenants keep their homes with his new 7 million buck Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Fund.
Basically, the fund was for rent subsidies to tenants to pay for unconscionable rent increases. In other words, with the Special Ed subsidy plan, everybody wins - poor and strapped tenants who couldn't afford the increases, and greedy landlords. Oh yes, there was one loser - the Alberta taxpayer who pays for it all. Better than rent controls says the government. Better to have the taxpayer foot the bill than greedy landlords.
Actually, we've seen this type of Tory program before, during the reign of Special Ed's mentor and patron, Ralph Klein. Remember the assistance to cattle growers during the mad-cow crisis? In that case, the bulk of the tax-payers' money (the fund), designed to subsidize the cattle growers (the renters), found its way into the deep pockets of the meat packers (the landlords).
As if the program wasn't deeply flawed enough, we discovered last week it is probably worse. The fund money is disappearing faster than the Tory vote in Calgary. 93 grand a week. In two short months, 4.3 million of the 7 million has already been disbursed. Its due to run out in September. And there are serious allegations of fraud.
It seems that government oversight of the program was so lax, that in no time at all two-bit fraudsters and con-artists figured out that here was a mother lode no self-respecting thief could pass up. The only documents anybody needed to qualify was proof of finances such as a bank statement, and a letter from a landlord threatening eviction or announcing a gluttonous rent increase. No income thresholds. No asset thresholds. Furthermore, it was reported that employees who worked on the disbursement of fund monies were informed by supervisors to dole out to anybody who asked for assistance. No delays. The government of Special Ed was in enough trouble. The result: false statements, forged letters, phony landlords and some of the money being doled out to anybody but the needy.
The allegations are so serious that Employment, Immigration and Industry Minister Iris Evans has ordered an audit to investigate any abuse that has taken place. The Premier stated Thursday that, "If anybody has submitted improper information, at the end of the day, we're going to go after them, because to me it's fraud." Yes siree, it's fraud alright, Mr. Premier! Which your government openly invited by instituting an ill-considered program based entirely on trust and administered with this upper-most thought in mind - take the heat off of the government for not putting the heat on greedy landlords.
The Premier characteristically added a few weasel words. He said, "I don't know when the audit will be complete, but we're certainly accountable to Alberta taxpayers and we'll release all the information to the public once it's done." For his part the Auditor General said that the earliest he could get to the file would be November. So you can bet that it will be some time indeed before Albertans will find out what really has gone on. Surprise, surprise, it may even be after the next provincial election, given the recent election rumblings coming out of the Special Ed bunker.