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'Not involved in the day to day': Sask. MLA denies direct involvement in Sunrise Motel, supports provincial auditor investigation

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A Saskatchewan Party MLA – who has faced questions for his involvement with a Regina motel that allegedly inflated room prices for a customer on social assistance – spoke to reporters for the first time since the situation came to light.

In his comments on Monday, Regina Northeast MLA Gary Grewal said repeatedly that he is not involved in the day to day operations of the Sunrise Motel.

“I have been the owner of the Sunrise Motel since 2001. I'm not involved in the day to day operations of the motel, and I do not set the rates or manage the bookings. Sunrise Motels does not hold any contracts with the Government of Saskatchewan,” he said.

“I met with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner this past Friday. I am confident that I have disclosed and provided all the information necessary.”

Grewal recently returned to the legislature after an extended absence due to a family tragedy.

The Saskatchewan NDP originally alleged that the Sunrise Motel in Regina inflated the room rate for a resident on social assistance on Nov. 15.

The price of a room for Regina resident Evelyn Harper rose by 50 per cent once the Ministry of Social Services began footing the bill – from $132 to $200.

The motel is owned by Grewal Hospitality Inc. and is one of three establishments that Grewal holds an interest in. The other two being located in Medicine Hat, Alta, he told reporters on Monday.

The NDP have pointed to the rate increase and the motel’s connection to Grewal as grounds for investigation by the conflict of interest commissioner.

The province has called the accusations "unfounded," pointing out that the ministry does not pay damage deposits on rooms and rates can be adjusted by motels to cover potential damages.

“In order to control and to run the business in a business manner, that is a choice that managers have made,” Grewal said, referencing the rate increase in Harper's case. “But again, it's up to the managers. That's why they are hired.”

When asked if he has any role in selecting managers, Grewal said he doesn’t have any direct role in running the establishment – with the closest connection being his wife collecting paperwork.

“Actually my wife, she goes to collect the paperwork, takes it to the accountant [and] deposits the money in the account,” he explained.

Saskatchewan’s provincial auditor is set to look into the province’s procurement practices regarding hotel rooms for residents on social assistance.

When asked, Grewal said he supports the auditor’s investigation.

“I think that's the auditor’s job,” he said. “Everything which seems wrong, and if it involves public dollars, yes it is the auditor’s job. I think she should be investigating.”

'EXTREMELY DISSAPOINTING'

The Saskatchewan NDP’s Social Services Critic Meara Conway said Grewal’s comments did not shed light on the situation surrounding the Sunrise Motel.

“Just like Minister Gene Makowsky is responsible for his file, and what goes on in the Ministry of Social Services. Mr. Grewal, as a business owner, as responsible for what goes on in his business. It's very concerning – the optics alone are very concerning,” she said.

Makowsky previously stated during question period that $172,000 was spent on rooms at the Sunrise Motel by the government last year - out of a $2.25 million total cost across the province.

Conway said that beyond the two figures, no other information has been provided.

“Nothing else has come from this minister, no policies. No list of approved hotels. No scan in terms of what's been paid to hotels over the last five years,” she explained. “Nothing else that we've asked for and he has the full backing of the civil service presumably behind him in trying to find these answers."

“It's extremely disappointing, but we'll continue to ask these questions.”

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