Former KPU chair asked to repay expenses

The former board chair of Kwantlen Polytechnic University has been asked to repay thousands of dollars in unacceptable expenses, including expensive alcohol purchases and political donations to the B.C. Liberals and then Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.

Gord Schoberg, who ended his term as board chair July 31, 2014, billed the university for a host of questionable items, including:

• A $125 donation to Liberal MLA John Yap on July 27, 2011.

• A $3,500 silent auction item at a Surrey First fundraiser on July 19, 2011, which won a meal with then mayor Watts. Schoberg is the financial agent for the Surrey First party.

• A meal with at White Rock’s Onyx steak and seafood bar in July 2013, with $79 spent on one bottle of wine out of a $185.86 total bill.

• A meal at the Five Doors Down restaurant in White Rock in August 2013 with $88 spent on two bottles of wine out of a $183 bill.

• A $180 purchase of two bottles of scotch at a duty free airport store.

Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson said the expenses are inappropriate and out-of-line with the university’s mission to fund classrooms and research.

“This is obviously a surprise and my job is to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Wilkinson.

The information only came to light after someone filed a Freedom of Information request with the university for the board expenses, and Kwantlen began compiling the information internally, said Wilkinson.

Technically, the expenses were allowed under Kwantlen’s policies, which allowed political donations until January 2013, and allowed alcohol purchases without pre-authorization until 2014, said Wilkinson.

Schoberg, who became board chair in 2008, said he had board approval to expense the items, especially the Surrey First donation.

“I wasn’t unilaterally allowed to make that expenditure, it was something approved by the board,” he said in an interview.

The board at the time included Amrik Virk, who became an MLA in the 2013 election and was appointed Minister of Advanced Education before being shuffled out of that job due to his ties to previous spending scandals at Kwantlen.

“It was with the collective thought that Kwantlen needed to start reaching out more to the community,” said Schoberg. “This was an example of something that sounded good and felt like the right thing at time. Obviously, in reflection now after four years past and changing attitudes and so forth, I’m stepping out and saying hey don’t even think about it, I’ll repay it and try and put this behind us.”

The Yap donation was made because his Richmond riding is one of Kwantlen’s catchment areas and the university was doing outreach with community members on its new designation as a polytechnic university, said Schoberg.

A full list of Schoberg’s expenses was not provided by the minister or Kwantlen.

Schoberg said he’s waiting to get a full list from the university but does not expect it to exceed $10,000.

The alcohol expenses were related to an annual professional development conference for the board, including the two bottles of scotch from the duty-free store, said Schoberg.

“Rather than having alcohol around the table I’d invite the board colleagues to come back to my room for a drink,” he said.

Wilkinson said he’s ordered B.C.’s 25 colleges, universities and polytechnic institutes to re-examine old board expenses and determine if there were any questionable purchases, regardless of whether they were technically allowed under rules at the time.

“One can think in common sense terms,” said Wilkinson. “If there is alcohol being bought at a duty free outlet at an airport, that is clearly inappropriate, regardless of any policy at the time. So that should clearly be reimbursed. We’ll have to see how this unfolds.”

Approximately half the universities have already reported back to government that there were no inappropriate expenses.

Wilkinson said he still has confidence in Kwantlen, because the university’s president and board members have changed in recent years.

The university has been plagued by scandal in recent years, including a government probe that determined certain Kwantlen board members were aware of a questionable compensation package for a university vice-president in 2011 by using pre-employment deals and other perks and compensation to break government caps on pay.

That probe caused Premier Christy Clark to shuffle then Virk out of his advanced education portfolio, after emails surfaced showing Virk – who was on Kwantlen’s board at the time, before he became an MLA – was actively involved in the deal.

Kwantlen was also criticized for spending $177,000 to hire Liberal-connected lobbyist Mark Jiles between 2009 and 2013 to try and increase the university’s profile amongst Liberal MLAs and cabinet ministers.

All post-secondary institutions are now banned from hiring lobbyists.

– Rob Shaw is a Vancouver Sun reporter.

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