By Cassidy Olivier, The Province
B.C.’s minister of advanced education on Monday deflected a barrage of questions from the opposition related to a freedom of information return showing Kwantlen Polytechnic University paid a well-known Liberal lobbyist nearly $177,000 to lobby the government.
During an exchange in the legislature, Minister Andrew Wilkinson successfully wove and dodged his way through a series of questions from three NDP critics without ever directly addressing why the university hired Mark Jiles over a four-year period to lobby on behalf of the school.
Instead, Wilkinson, who just recently assumed the advanced education portfolio from Amrik Virk, alternatively praised the work the government has done to improve the quality of education offered at B.C.’s post-secondary institutions and hurled derisive remarks at his questioners.
“The members heckle and cackle and giggle like a flock of chickens,” Wilkinson said in the house during Question Period. “It’s time for the members opposite to stick to their knitting and figure out how to conduct question period.”
The freedom of information return, released by the NDP, show Jiles, the principle the Bluestone Group Government Relations, was first hired by the school in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The objectives of the arrangement, according to a draft proposal released in the FOI, was to “assist” Kwantlen with “its government relations.”
This would include building relationships with several Liberal MLAs and cabinet members, including Moira Stilwell, who was then the minister of advanced education, Colin Hansen, then the minister of finance, and Kevin Falcon, then the minister of health.
According to board minutes from 2010, Kwantlen also retained Jiles to “identify how compensation levels are determined and whether they are equitable and fair.” His last contract was for 2012-2013 fiscal year, in which he was paid a total of $11,536.
NDP critic Kathy Corrigan questioned why Kwantlen would pay a lobbyists to do something Virk — who at the time of Jiles’ lobbying activities was the university’s vice chair of the board and also its chair of the human resources committee — could have accomplished.
“I mean, he had close connections with the government,” said Corrigan. “And he was responsible for this, as the chair of the human resources committee, it was that committee that spent the money. Why would they feel that they should spend $177,000 to hire a lobbyist?”
Virk was shuffled out of advanced education last year following release of a damning government report into the school’s executive compensation practices. The report found that Virk was aware of at least two instances where the school deliberately broke government disclosure and compensation rules.
A spokesperson for KPU said Monday of the lobbying: “This was done under a previous administration, and was a practice that ended in 2012.”