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Life-lease victims call for St. Albert MLA to be removed as minister responsible for legislation

Life-lease protestors visited the Alberta legislature and called for Bill 12, the Consumer Protection (Life Leases) Amendment Act, to be withdrawn

Families of seniors waiting to be repaid millions of dollars trapped in life-lease limbo gathered at the Alberta legislature last Thursday. They came to demand more punitive measures for operators that break life lease contracts, and that Service Alberta Minister and Morinville – St. Albert MLA Dale Nally be removed as the Minister responsible for life lease legislation.

Karin Dowling, president of the Alberta Life Lease Protection Society (ALLPS), said that she and other family members of seniors who signed contracts with Christenson Developments didn’t receive adequate consultation.

Seniors believed that the payments of up to $500,000 provided to Christenson Developments in exchange for reduced rent were being held in a trust and that most of the money would be returned within three months after the lease holders moved or died. Instead, some lease holders have been waiting over two years in lineups that, in some cases, haven’t gotten any shorter.

Dowling said the group hasn’t been contacted by the province since life lease legislation was introduced. However, on Tuesday, Dowling told the Gazette that since the protest Nally and Premier Danielle Smith have arranged to meet with the ALLPS.  

Dowling said life-lease holders have felt ignored by Nally. 

“We are all seniors or seniors’ families who have lost thousands and thousands of dollars. By not responding to us, by not talking to us, it's given the optics that there is no care coming from our UCP government.”

A spokesperson from Nally's office said that Nally met with affected life-lease holders three times to get their input on the legislation and that he met with Dowling.

Bill 12, the Consumer Protection (Life Leases) Amendment Act, that Nally introduced last month, would ensure lease holders know how their loans are being used. Life lease operators could face fines of $300,000 per infraction or even two years in prison per infraction if the payments aren’t made within 180 days after a lease is terminated.   

Dowling doesn’t think it goes far enough. When an operator owes millions, “a $300,000 fine or even two years in jail is peanuts,” she said.

Her group has lost trust in Nally, she said, and the legislation favours operators over seniors.

“We need somebody that can refabricate that life lease language so that it does have some care for the consumer, who is a vulnerable senior in these situations,” she said.

St. Albert resident Cindy Farnel attended the protest. Her 91-year-old mother lived in the Citadel Mews West building before it burned down. Now her mother lives in the Christenson-owned Devonshire Village in Edmonton.  

Farnel’s mother needs to move into a long-term care facility, but the money it would take to support that move could take years to be returned.

Farnel said her mother feels like “a prisoner.”

“She's also at the point where she's saying, ‘I'm scared to keep living,’ because I'm not going to have any money,” Farnel said.

NDP attend protest

Several NDP MLAs attended the protest, including St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud, Edmonton — Highlands — Norwood MLA Janis Irwin, Edmonton — Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi and Edmonton — Meadows MLA Jasvir Deol.

Renaud called Bill 12 “a failure.”

“It’s such a good example of why it's so important to consult all sides,” she said. The language of the bill indicates that life-lease operators took priority, she said.

“You have to think about… what's going to make this workable, not just someone going to jail,” she said. “The chances of that ever happening are slim to none.”

Three weeks ago, Nally told the Gazette that the legislation was thoughtful, thorough and pragmatic.

He clarified that the $300,000 fine for operators is per infraction, meaning that an operator with a long queue of unpaid former tenants could be facing penalties in the millions. Operators could also face sentences longer than two years, as the charges for failing to repay are also per infraction. 

Forcing operators to hold the loan money in a trust would “kill the affordability aspect of life leases,” he said. However, the legislation leaves open the possibility of putting the loan money in surety bonds.

“No life lease operators want to spend two years in prison because they weren't able to get the deposit back to the lease holder,” he said.

Some NDP members participated in the consultations his ministry had with life-lease stakeholders, he said.

“I regret that there are members of the NDP that are politicizing this,” he said.  

Nally told CTV Edmonton that his ministry has met with Greg Christenson, owner of Christenson Developments, 12 times, and that he has personally met with Christenson nine times to “put pressure on him to pay everybody back.” 

Nally was not available for an interview by press time. 

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