PREMIER Clark needs to show that transparency and accountability matter to the B.C. Liberal government by firing Minister of Advanced Education Amrik Virk.
Last week, following a three month internal investigation, the B.C. Liberals released a report showing that Mr. Virk, a B.C. Liberal cabinet minister, broke the government’s rules on post-secondary executive compensation limits and disclosure as a board member at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. The report investigated two unreported contracts awarded to university executives at the school, totalling $100,000.
As Chair of the Board’s Human Resources Committee, Mr. Virk was the board member responsible for ensuring the rules on limiting and disclosing executive salaries were followed. But it wasn’t just the failure to follow rules in a technical sense that was uncovered by the government investigation. The investigator uncovered that Mr. Virk had been involved in discussions over e-mail and during meetings on how best to avoid the rules in order to give an extra $50,000 payment to a university executive who was already going to earn the maximum amount allowed by government.
Before the investigation released its report, Mr. Virk repeatedly misled the public about his actions. When I first raised this issue, the minister said my questions were “outlandish,” and that I was on a “fishing expedition.” He said that everything he had done was above board, and that he would be vindicated. Even when the report came out, proving that Mr. Virk was part of an organized effort to defeat the rules, Mr. Virk did not resign his position in embarrassment, but instead attempted to evade responsibility for his rule breaking. He suggested that someone should have given him better information. He said the whole situation was “regrettable.”
Those around Mr. Virk have been more frank in their assessments. His colleague, Minister of Finance Mike de Jong, called Mr. Virk’s activities “troubling” and “unacceptable.” The current President of KPU described the investigation’s revelations as “very troubling.”
It is certainly troubling that B.C.’s minister responsible for universities is now under investigation by a university, instead of the other way around. This week, KPU’s president (himself a beneficiary of an unreported $50,000 contract approved by Mr. Virk) announced he is conducting an internal investigation at the school.
The school’s investigation renders Mr. Virk incapable of funding or defunding KPU for any program. An investment in the school will be seen as an effort to influence the investigation. A removal of funding will be seen as retribution for the school having the gall to investigate the minister himself. All of this is happening at a time when KPU is fighting for restoration of English as a Second Language funding, and while the school has proposed a significant multi-million dollar expansion in central Surrey and a new Traditional Chinese Medicine program.
While Mr. Virk insists that the multiple investigations into his activities at KPU are just a flesh wound to his credibility, Premier Christy Clark refused to step in and stop the bleeding by removing Mr. Virk. As the minister responsible for every university and college in B.C., Mr. Virk no longer has the moral authority or the necessary independence to play the critically important role he’s been asked to take on.
Just last year, the Premier said, “there is no value more important to me than respect for the taxpayer and ensuring that rules are properly followed.” Perhaps we should thank Mr. Virk for demonstrating, yet again, the value of commitments made by this Premier.
Students have to follow rules or there are consequences. But for the Minister of Advanced Education, it is clear that a different standard applies.
BY DAVID EBY
Opposition Critic for Advanced Education