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Province shuffles Clifford Lee out of role as P.E.I. affordable housing chief

It doesn’t happen very often but Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee was forced to cast the deciding vote Monday night over a cosmetic pesticide issue. He voted in favour of maintaining the $50 surcharge and exemption to the bylaw clause.
Former Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee - File

After a year serving as the province’s behind-the-scenes housing czar, former Charlottetown mayor Clifford Lee has been shuffled out.

A statement from the province said Lee has “wrapped up his work" as housing hub special adviser.

Lee was brought into the position in June 2018 as a leading figure coordinating the province’s housing action plan. The plan, which the previous government released weeks after hiring Lee, aims to address the extreme shortage of rental and affordable housing throughout P.E.I. through a mix of rental subsidies and new construction. 

The province has been paying Lee a yearly salary of $128,821 since then. He has conducted few interviews since August of 2018. The Guardian attempted to speak to Lee, but was unable to reach him.

Lee’s role in government has been the subject of questions from the opposition Green bench. During a meeting of the standing committee on health and social development on Wednesday, Green MLA Hannah Bell asked why Lee was not present.

The meeting, held to discuss housing issues, was attended by Housing Minister Ernie Hudson and director of housing services Sonya Cobb.

“I was wondering if we could be advised why Clifford Lee is not here today as part of this presentation, given his role and accountability in terms of the implementation of the Housing Action Plan,” Bell asked during the meeting.

Hudson replied that Lee had been “quite involved” and had been involved in meeting with community groups involved with housing. Hudson also said Lee was employed by the Department of Transportation, Energy and Infrastructure, not by his department.

“As to why he is not here today, I’ll be honest, I can’t answer that question. I don’t know,” Hudson said.

“Mr. Lee was very instrumental in terms of the work with the developers for Phase 1 of the plan,” Cobb said, referring the housing action plan.

“We are evolving to the next stage of the plan and within that, roles have changed.”

Cobb said the first phase of the housing action plan had involved the planned construction of 366 new units of affordable housing as well as the disbursal of hundreds of rental subsidies to tenants.

In a statement, the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy said Lee had been focused on working with 12 municipalities and 75 private developers in order to address housing shortages.

This resulted in “more than 250 housing units being under construction or built,” the statement said.

It is unclear what Lee’s role with the province currently is.

Lee’s contract was obtained by the opposition Greens as a result of a Freedom of Information request. The contract extended to June 2021 and allowed for 30 days of paid vacation per year as well as the $128,821 salary.

As a senior adviser, Lee was also tasked with advising the cabinet committee on housing on the implementation progress of the Housing Action Plan’s 55 action items. He was also supposed to “provide relevant insight and expert advice to senior government with organized accurate data.”

No progress report has been released on the implementation of the housing action plan. The plan set winter 2019 as a deadline for developing a “public reporting framework.” 

In a statement released on Thursday, the Green opposition took direct aim at Lee’s absence from the Oct. 2 meeting.

“In a manner reminiscent of the children’s television show ‘Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?’ the Official Opposition has been trying to track down Clifford Lee and determine what he has been doing since June 18, 2018,” the statement read.

The Greens' statement also noted Lee worked both as mayor of Charlottetown and at a position at Holland College for the first several months of his contract.

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