The federal Liberal government is defending its decision to have the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. oversee a rent-relief program for small businesses struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. CMHC president Evan Siddall speaks to the Canadian Club of Toronto, in Toronto on June 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The federal Liberal government is defending its decision to have the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. oversee a rent-relief program for small businesses struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. CMHC president Evan Siddall speaks to the Canadian Club of Toronto, in Toronto on June 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Rent-relief program becomes new front in fight between Liberals, opposition

Opposition trying to draw parallels between decision to have Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. run program and the WE controversy

A quiet choice this spring to have the Crown corporation responsible for helping Canadians obtain affordable housing run a commercial rent-relief program during the COVID-19 pandemic has become the latest front in a war between the Liberal government and opposition.

Opposition parties are trying to draw parallels between the decision to have the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. run the program and the WE controversy, arguing both involve ethical breaches at the highest levels of the Liberal hierarchy.

That is because the CMHC ended up contracting out administration of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program to a mortgage lender where the husband of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff is a senior executive. That contract with MCAP was initially worth $56 million when the rent-relief program was launched in May and later expanded to $84 million in July.

The Liberals are pushing back against opposition allegations of unethical conduct as well as comparisons with the WE controversy, saying it followed the rules when it came to MCAP and that CMHC alone made the decision to have the company run the program without any political involvement.

The root of the dispute goes back to April 24, when Trudeau announced Ottawa had reached an agreement in principle with all provinces and territories to implement the rent-relief program, which promised to reduce the rent for small businesses by 75 per cent through subsidies and loans to their landlords.

Trudeau said at the time the CMHC would administer the program, a decision the Liberals are now defending. Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s spokeswoman Maeva Proteau says the Crown corporation was considered the best fit because it deals with mortgages and has the best understanding of Canada’s real-estate market.

“In consultation with the Department of Justice it was determined that CMHC was able to make payments without requiring new legislation that would have further delayed roll out,” Proteau said in a statement, adding it also had experience delivering a program that involved working with the provinces and territories.

But then CMHC, which describes its singular mission as “to make housing affordable for everyone in Canada,” outsourced administration of the program. According to CMHC spokeswoman Audrey-Anne Coulombe, that was because it did “not have the internal capacity to stand up the program in short order.”

That should have been obvious to the Liberals from the start, say the Conservatives, who argue the program should have been given to the Canada Revenue Agency. It is already managing a variety of support programs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the federal wage subsidy.

The Conservatives say that would have also prevented the CMHC outsourcing the rent-relief program to MCAP, the Toronto-headquartered mortgage lender that hired Robert Silver as an executive vice-president in January. Silver is married to Katie Telford, Trudeau’s chief of staff.

Proteau said the Canada Revenue Agency was a good fit for the wage subsidy program because its mandate already deals with things like payroll taxes. She said it does not directly monitor commercial rent.

The Liberals and CMHC say the Crown corporation awarded MCAP the contract on its own, independent of any political involvement.

Coulombe said the CMHC reached out to two financial institutions with experience dealing with commercial mortgages and asked for proposals. She said MCAP’s proposal was stronger, and cost less. She said the second company told the CMHC it would still be prepared to support the program if it needed a back-up plan.

The Prime Minister’s Office has also released emails it says show Telford consulted with federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion in January before Silver was hired by MCAP.

Trudeau spokesman Alex Wellstead said Dion advised no additional measures were needed.

“However, out of an abundance of caution, Ms. Telford implemented a voluntary conflict screen at that time,” Wellstead said. “This screen applies to anything related to MCAP and it has been diligently followed since it was implemented. Ms. Telford has not been involved in any discussions related to MCAP.”

The Conservatives nonetheless say they want answers.

They are also comparing the issue to the government’s ill-fated decision to have the WE Charity run a student-volunteer program during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dion is now investigating whether Trudeau and Morneau violated conflict-of-interest rules over the agreement, which was cancelled in early July, due to connections to WE.

“Our economy will take a $100 billion hit this year, and what is the prime minister focused on?” Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said Sunday in Ottawa. ”Not on getting Canada through this crisis or rebuilding our economy, but on helping his friends, helping his cronies.”

Trudeau has been found to have violated the Conflict of Interest Act twice before.

The first time was for accepting two paid family vacations on the private island of the Aga Khan, and the second was for improperly pressuring Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was the attorney general, to halt the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

Meanwhile, the rent-relief program has been criticized for falling short in meeting the needs of small businesses, many of which are struggling to survive due to the pandemic-related shutdowns.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents such companies, says only 20 per cent of its members felt the program was helpful.

“It’s not working for anyone — tenants or landlords — yet no major changes have been made to the program since it was announced, beyond an extension to July and August,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly, who has proposed a number of amendments to make it more accessible to companies.

Proteau said as of Sunday, the more than 70,000 business tenants have received a total of over $693 million in rent support.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusfederal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Residents line up socially distanced at the Seedy Saturday event, held at the Lobelco Hall parking lot from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 3 with strict COVID-19 restrictions and precautions in place. (Nicole Kaechele photo)
Seedlings, plants and seeds offered at Seedy Saturday

“It was a fairly good turnout,” noted Elizabeth Howard

The Bella Coola Valley Arts Council (BCVAC) has recently received two awards totaling $40,000 from the province-wide British Columbia Arts Council, part of the StrongerBC: BC’s Economic Recovery Plan. The grants are to be used to stimulate local arts communities and to help them cope with impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo submitted)
Bella Coola Valley Arts Council receives $40,000 for local projects

The grants will be used to stimulte local arts communities and help them cope with the pandemic

Cinematographer Louvens Remy recording Nuxalk Sputc Crew technician Scmlh (Jason Moody) driving a speed boat for sputc plankton sampling in the Bella Coola estuary. (Photo submitted)
Documentary to highlight importance of sputc

Sputc: We Shall Eat When the River is Full is a cinematic tale of wealth, loss and recovery

Carver Ken Sheen had almost finished work on a large cowboy carving commissioned by the City of Williams Lake to replace the original overlooking the Stampede Grounds when fire broke out Friday, April 18 at his property between Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Pine River Carving Facebook photos)
Nearly completed cow boss statue commissioned by City of Williams Lake lost to fire

Carver Ken Sheen lost the statue, all his tools and his shop in the blaze

Spring flooding is causing damage at Tl’etinqox First Nation west of Williams Lake. (Isidore Harry photo)
UPDATE: Spring freshet causes road damage at Tl’etinqox First Nation

Other damaged sections of Highway 20 are also under repairs

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read