Kwan repays $35,000 in travel costs, takes leave

Longtime NDP MLA won't resign her Vancouver seat after audit uncovers vacation spending by society

NDP MLA Jenny Kwan fielded questions from reporters Friday after saying she would repay her family's vacation costs linked to the Portland Hotel Society.

Embattled NDP MLA Jenny Kwan said Friday she has repaid nearly $35,000 in questionable vacation expenses to the Portland Hotel Society relating to trips her family took in 2012 after the release of bombshell government audits this week.

A tearful Kwan told reporters she will take a leave of absence of undetermined length but will remain MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant.

“Words cannot adequately express how shocked and sorry I am about the findings of these audits,” Kwan said. “I can’t tell you how upsetting this is to me.”

She said she believed the portion of costs for her and her children to go along on trips to Europe and Disneyland that surfaced in the Portland audits had been paid by her estranged husband, a Portland Hotel Society manager at the time.

Citing difficulty getting Portland to verify the amounts linked to her family and in determining whether her husband would repay the money, Kwan said she was doing it herself via a cheque delivered that morning for $34,922.57.

She said that’s the full amount that either her ex-husband or her family is associated with that was paid by Portland.

“I trusted that he was telling the truth,” Kwan said. “I’m taking responsibility for this because I was part of the family unit at the time.”

Kwan’s statement follows revelations in twin audits released by the province that uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in irregular management expenses by the non-profit society that serves people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The money Kwan is repaying includes a Europe trip to Vienna and Bristol and a separate trip to Disneyland.

Kwan said she booked and paid for the Disneyland vacation herself but her husband then told her they had a hotel upgrade, which she believed he and not Portland had paid for.

Asked by reporters if she had considered resigning, Kwan responded: “No, I haven’t.”

The Portland Hotel Society board and senior managers resigned earlier this week after the provincial government threatened to cut off funding if they didn’t.

Health Minister Terry Lake said the millions of dollars in questionable or unsubstantiated expenses uncovered by the audits were an inappropriate and unacceptable use of taxpayers’ money.

Large amounts were spent on vacations, high-end hotels, limousines and other questionable expenses, including payments to various affiliated companies run by PHS staff or board members.

The society operates the supervised drug injection site in the Downtown Eastside, as well as other services.

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