More than $100K in living expenses paid to ousted B.C. health-care exec

Documents obtained by CTV News show taxpayers footed the bill for more than $100,000 in personal living expenses and the lease of an Audi for an ousted B.C. health-care executive.

Benoit Morin, who lasted just a year as president and CEO of the Provincial Health Services Authority before being ousted amidst a spending scandal, expensed $115,738 for rent, furniture rental, car payments and operating costs, temporary accommodations and other miscellaneous expenses. A further $6,853 is unspecified but is dated just a few days before he officially took over as CEO, suggesting it’s likely moving expenses.

Morin was hired at a salary of $352,000 per year with seven weeks' vacation and paid nine months’ severance, which PHSA says he's receiving on a monthly basis in addition to continuance of his benefits.

Paperwork obtained through a freedom of information request includes invoices for a headhunting company, which billed PHSA $109,928 to advertise and recruit for the position in 2019; it billed a further $4,200 for executive relocation services including helping Morin find a home and giving him a city orientation.

PFM Executive Search arranged for Morin to fly from Montreal to Vancouver four times from late November to early January for interviews, at a cost of $19,708, which included airfare, taxis, hotel stays at the upscale Pan Pacific Hotel and meals.

The last trip in January for the final interview was the most expensive at $8,010 for business class airfare for two from Montreal, with meals for two included; one of the meals, which did not include alcohol, totalled $99.75 at Cardero's Restaurant in Coal Harbour, including two orders of grilled lamb chops at $39 each.

CTV News asked PHSA for an interview with a spokesperson to discuss the expenses but was told no one was available. A spokesperson sent a written response instead.

"As a publicly-funded organization, PHSA is committed to fiscal responsibility and to adhering to the public sector and Health Employers Association of BC hiring practice guidelines, policies and directives," they wrote in an email, noting Morin did not move his household belongings nor sell his home in Quebec and was approved to have a temporary living arrangement for six months.

"In lieu of this, as negotiated with the PHSA Board Chair and as approved by PSEC, he was provided with an alternative living allowance over and above the 180 days," continued the email. "The total amount was capped at $80,722 – the equivalent of an approved estimate for moving costs, property transfer tax and legal/house inspection costs associated with purchasing a home in Vancouver."

A closer look at the expenses

When Morin first moved to Vancouver, he stayed at the Sutton Place hotel for two weeks at a cost of $5,521, which included his hotel room, $494 for dry cleaning, $240 in valet parking, $427 for hotel breakfasts (the breakfast buffet at $21, sometimes steak and eggs for $23) plus $670 in room service. A sample meal: a quinoa salad with steak, cooked rare, and two large bottles of Perrier sparkling water for $72 including delivery, tax and gratuity.

Morin rented a vehicle from Audi Downtown Vancouver, but the model is not specified. PHSA also paid out the lease for his vehicle in Quebec, with car-related expenses totalling $15,372 as a result.

Taxpayers paid for Morin’s rent for his home at a cost of $4,500 per month. His employment agreement doesn’t make any mention of living expenses and under the heading “Expenses” specifies, “The Employer shall reimburse the Employee for all reasonable, business-related expenses incurred by the Employeee in performing the duties of the position," but PHSA says an amendment was added at a later date wherein his temporary living expenses would be covered.

Morin’s hydro and gas bills were also paid for until August. That’s also when the furniture expenses from Home Ingredients Rentals ended. Setup and furniture rental added up to $36,914 from mid-February and into the summer.

Morin’s short but controversial tenure

At a time when local health-care workers were grappling with a mysterious new coronavirus that spread around the globe, Morin’s living expenses were fully covered and the new president started on a path that would lead to an investigation into his spending at the health authority and, ultimately, his departure from the position exactly a year after he started.

The health minister first responded to allegations of misspending in December 2020, after the CBC broke a story alleging lavish lunches and unnecessary renovations at the PHSA offices.

Adrian Dix, who’d warmly welcomed the veteran health administrator when he began in the position earlier that year, authorized an investigation into the spending allegations as well as a probe into a contract for face masks that saw $7 million worth of faulty equipment unsuitable for use during the first wave of the pandemic when supplies were scarce and desperately needed.

While an Ernst and Young report found no evidence of conflict of interest between Morin and the personal protective equipment supplier, it documented a workplace clash between Morin and staff who didn’t agree they should write off the expenses. Three members of the executive team left as a result, including the chief internal auditor.

CTV News has attempted to contact Morin but he has not responded.

Approved by board chair

Months after CTV News made a freedom of information request and following two extensions, PHSA provided 107 pages of scanned documents outlining Morin’s expense claims.

Some sections, including his residential address while in Vancouver, were redacted.

"Expenses related to Mr. Morin’s relocation and temporary living arrangements were part of his employment contract approved by the PHSA Board Chair and the Public Sector Employers’ Council Secretariat (PSEC)," confirmed the spokesperson.

When asked whether the next president could expect to make similar expense claims, PHSA did not answer.

UPDATE: PHSA now says there was an amendment to Morin's contract for 6-mo temp living arrangemt as he didn't intend to sell his home or move his belongings from QC. They allowed $80k for that, adding "As a publicly-funded organization, PHSA is committed to fiscal responsibility." https://t.co/3VOKmkPeBR

— Penny Daflos (@PennyDaflos) May 4, 2021

With files from CTV News Toronto's Jon Woodward