Les Leyne: Report exposes salary shenanigans

Les Leyne mugshot genericA senior Mountie gets appointed to a university board on the strength of his illustrious career and winds up on the human resources committee searching for new executives.

They run into recruiting trouble because the salaries they can offer aren’t very competitive. Candidates are dropping out when they see the numbers. Also, the government has set a very strict cap on how much they can offer, and equally strict guidelines on how the whole package has to be fully disclosed, since it’s all taxpayers’ money.

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They find a presidential candidate and contemplate making an end-run around the rules by grabbing $100,000 from a foundation that is supposed to be devoted to students. But they are sternly warned by the authorities to not even think about doing that. So they back off.

Instead, they surreptitiously (“These letters are not to be shared ... this email should be treated confidentially”) try another tack. They invent a $50,000 pre-employment consulting contract to cover three months before the new president starts work. They hire the new boss at $225,000 per annum — as per the guidelines — and our Mountie on the board submits that contract to the watchdog agency. But he doesn’t bother including the $50K pre-employment contract.

It’s for “services subject to his availability.” They decide not to bother with hourly billings, because he might not have the time to work up to the maximum. They just want to give him the $50,000 to entice him from New York to B.C.

When it comes time to report to the watchdogs, the university makes no mention of the pre-employment contract in the official executive compensation disclosure statement that it has repeatedly been warned has to be a complete account of all benefits.

Instead, it tucks the amount into an obscure financial filing of amounts paid to suppliers.

So our Mountie got his man, and finessed his way past the rules and regulations by paying the candidate a signing bonus and hiding it.

The question is: What do you do with a guy like that?

This being B.C., the answer is: You make him the minister of advanced education, ultimately responsible for all the niggling rules and regulations that he successfully circumvented.

That would be Amrik Virk, who is in a spot of difficulty, now that the scheme he helped execute has been revealed. He contributed his time on the board of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, finished his police career, then got elected in Surrey-Tynehead and vaulted into cabinet.

University staff who were affronted by how the rules were bent started talking to NDP MLA David Eby and he started picking away during the last legislative sitting at Kwantlen’s hiring practices and Virk’s role in them as a five-year member of the board.

Virk’s posture through much of that interrogation was that of a dismissive blowhard, belittling the questions, dodging them and firing back aimlessly at the NDP for even asking them. But there was enough evidence at hand that Finance Minister Mike de Jong ordered a look-see.

Assistant deputy minister Rob Mingay reported Tuesday and it confirmed that Eby — and the university staff who briefed him — were right on the money when it comes to being concerned. He confirmed the story recounted above, and an even more egregious example from earlier.

Kwantlen hired a vice-president at $120,000 and then offered her more than $120,000 in undisclosed bonuses, without the board even knowing about it. She took off after a year and didn’t take up all the money, but still ....

There’s also an email making it abundantly clear these overly generous, inconsistent anomalies on executive hires have been going on for years.

By Tuesday afternoon, the New Democrats were suggesting Virk’s position in cabinet should be rethought, Virk was wishing he could do it over again differently and de Jong was ordering a one-day remedial disclosure course for all post-secondary hiring departments.

Virk’s initial response in March was that questions were “outlandish.” Now that the answers are in, he’s starting to look a little outlandish, too.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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