It was supposed to be a safe, affordable home for Ontarians with nowhere else to go. But inside, it was horrifying: dozens of decaying beds, broken toilets, mice, cockroaches and exposed wires.
In a few years, a government board of inquiry would find that the government had known of the problem for years, but had done nothing about it. No action was taken despite warnings from experts that the house was unfit for human habitation.
The government’s actions to date are just one reason why the story of the B.C. mansion is now a subject of debate among residents, politicians, former residents, homeowners and politicians.
The revelations of B.C. government inaction have put home ownership at the centre of a national conversation over housing, government accountability and housing affordability in Canada.
The inquiry opened in May 2018, after the former home’s former owner sought to sell, but after months of delays, it was unable to. The inquiry has heard from thousands of people over almost 18 months, but the scope of its investigation has been narrowed to focus on the B.C. government and its lack of response to residents’ concerns about the B.C. mansion.
But what the inquiry has never examined is the broader issue of housing and affordability in Canada, where there is scant housing supply and housing is often unaffordable for most Canadians.
The inquiry will also look at a different issue than many critics of the B.C. mansion are focusing on — government transparency.
The former occupant of the B.C. mansion, former home builder Bill Johnston, has said he believes his former landlord and the government know more than they’ve disclosed and that they’ve protected the former home under a legal fiction that he owns it. He’s not the only one arguing that the B.C. government may have a hidden agenda. Former residents, government officials, former home builder Bill Johnston and experts in housing and development all argue that there is nothing mysterious about the government’s actions.