The Saskatchewan government says its changing how it procures hotels for those on social assistance after a motel owned by a legislature member raised rates when the province paid.
The Saskatchewan Party government said in a letter released Friday its to now formally obtain quotes from three hotels and will direct people to the cheapest one, while also considering their safety, needs and circumstances.
The province is also planning a one-year pilot project to publicly procure blocks of five rooms each in Regina and Saskatoon at a confirmed rate, which it says would allow it to evaluate whether this approach is cost effective.
I think maybe theres a perception out there that we might not have got the best price based on the one case that we heard in the legislature, Gene Makowsky, the social services minister, told reporters Friday.
We want to be as transparent as possible going forward and to be able to ensure that we have people looked after.
Last year, Saskatchewans Opposition NDP raised questions when the Sunrise Motel owned by Gary Grewal, a Saskatchewan Party backbencher, charged a higher nightly rate for a woman who checked in when the province paid her bill.
Motel receipts provided by the NDP show the client paid $132 a night, plus a $200 damage deposit, when she initially checked in.
However, when the Ministry of Social Services decided to foot the bill, the receipts show the government paid $168 a night and then $200 a night a few days later.
Grewal has disclosed to the conflict of interest commissioner he owns the motel and previously said he does not manage its day-to-day operations.
Makowksy said the province thought it could strengthen its policies after the case involving Grewals hotel came to light.
We can always do better, he said.
In the letter, addressed to the Opposition NDP, the province says it spent more than $220,000 for stays at the Sunrise Motel in the 2022-23 fiscal year for an average of $151 per night.
It paid the Coachman Inn Motel in Regina more than $180,000 last year for an average of $128 per night, and the Thriftlodge by Wyndham got $163,000 for an average of $186 per night.
The province spent $2.1 million in total for hotels across the province last year.
Makowsky said social workers choose hotels based on their availability and willingness to accept those on social services.
He said some have chosen not to accept certain clients because theyve previously damaged rooms or have disturbed other patrons.
Rates the province has paid look to be higher than whats viewable online because all the charges arent reflected on websites, the minister added.
Getting those quotes (will help) the caseworkers and the ministry understand what is available and hopefully were able to use, as much as we can, the lowest price provider, Makowsky said.
He said the province typically works with three hotels for those on social assistance. He hopes the pilot project will allow the province to add more choices.