Op-ed: Independent investigation needed into Kwantlen payments

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by David Eby, New Democrat advanced education critic

When New Democrats received a brown paper envelope full of allegations that big bonuses were being paid to the best paid executives at Kwantlen Polytechnic University using money that was intended for student programs, we were skeptical.

When we were given evidence that appeared to show the current minister of advanced education, Amrik Virk, who used to be chair of Kwantlen’s human resource committee, could be involved in these allegations, we were very concerned. After all, Mr. Virk is now responsible for ensuring post-secondary institutions, like Kwantlen, follow the rules.

We know that there are rules in place about the maximum amount that university and college presidents and other executives at our public education institutions can be paid. The cap on the president’s salary at Kwantlen, for example, is $225,000 a year. That’s already much more than most British Columbians get paid.

Why would anybody try to break the rules to pay him more? And surely even if someone tried to pay him more, the government would have found out and stopped it from happening. The emails we were provided, if they are genuine, provide compelling evidence to support allegations that rules were broken in order to pay the president above the salary cap.

These e-mails we received contain another set of allegations that should also be investigated. These e-mails allege that Minister Virk and the deputy provincial chair of the B.C. Liberal Party, Gordon Schoberg, who is the chair of the Kwantlen board, discussed taking $100,000 from the student scholarship foundation at Kwantlen. They are alleged to have wanted to hand that money over to a new Kwantlen president. That would be an extra $100,000 in addition to the $225,000 the president was already going to earn.

Unfortunately, although we were once skeptical about these allegations, we’re now convinced there’s more than enough evidence to justify an independent investigation of Kwantlen. Here’s why we’ve asked the auditor general to start investigating.

After some digging, we were able to uncover two different contracts for Alan Davis, the president of Kwantlen, both signed on the same day.

One contract, the contract that was reported to the Public Sector Employers’ Council, a branch of the Ministry of Finance, is just $5 under the maximum $225,000 salary cap. That contract, signed by Minister Virk at the time he was a Kwantlen board member, explicitly says that there are no side deals or secret contracts permitted.

On the exact same day, a second contract with Mr. Davis was signed. It offered him an additional $50,000 for “such consulting services as Kwantlen may request, subject to your availability.” This contract, unlike the other contract, was marked “confidential” and never reported to the watchdog that oversees government salary rules.

Do the two separate contracts, signed on the same day, one reported and one not reported, mean that Mr. Davis improperly received an extra $50,000? That’s a question we need the auditor general to answer.

Futhermore, did the minister of advanced education seriously plan to take student scholarship money to help break provincial salary rules? Did he succeed? These are also questions that we need the auditor general to answer.

In such a case, when the reputation of a high-profile politician in the government is on the line, and the air must be cleared for thousands of alumni, students and faculty members of Kwantlen, there can be no debate that a thorough and independent investigation must take place. So why won’t Mr. Virk and the B.C. Liberals join the New Democrats in our request that the auditor general look into these allegations? Why will they not support an independent investigation?

Kwantlen is one of Canada’s finest teaching universities; their alumni are proud of the school, and their faculty are second to none. Kwantlen’s reputation deserves a complete and independent investigation that will clear the air. It’s simply wrong for the minister of advanced education not to join us in asking the auditor general to look into his actions.

The rules around how much executives at universities and colleges can be paid are there for a reason – to make sure money for students and courses isn’t directed into the pockets of executives. We all may have been skeptical at some point, but now enough information has come out that we all surely recognize the need for an independent investigation to get to the bottom of what is happening at Kwantlen.