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U of C spent $90,000 on CBC information request

By Scott Strasser, May 31 2016 —

After misfiled documents were discovered this week, a CBC story has brought a 2012 administrative controversy at the University of Calgary back to the surface.

According to CBC reporter Charles Russnell, the U of C spent $90,000 on legal fees related to a Freedom of Information and Privacy request issued by the CBC in 2012.

The FOIP sought to know if the U of C made any donations to the Alberta Progressive Conservative party between 2004 and 2008  — an illegal practice for universities under the province’s Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.

Emails obtained by the CBC from the initial FOIP show that lawyer Joe Lougheed bought tickets to PC party fundraisers on behalf of the U of C, whom he was a paid lobbyist for at the time. Lougheed billed the university for services rendered to pay for the tickets.

According to Russnell, Lougheed’s practice occurred between 2004 and 2008. The U of C’s in-house lawyer Charlene Anderson confronted Lougheed in 2008 about a $4,500 legal bill for “government relations matters.”

“This practice, in my opinion, exposes the university to unnecessary risks — legally, financially and reputationally,” wrote Anderson in an email to Lougheed. “The university cannot pay for services that were not rendered, nor should we circumvent the rules that preclude us from buying a table.”

Lougheed defended the practice to Anderson in an email:

“The bill in question relates to the Premier’s Dinner. As the U of C is precluded from buying the table directly, we buy the table for the U of C, write off the disbursement, and then simply charge for an equivalent amount of time. This is a practice we have followed for a couple years now. This is the first time this has been questioned by you.”

Anderson left the U of C following the original CBC story in 2012. Lougheed joined the SAIT board of governors in 2008 and is now the board’s chair.

Following the initial controversy, U of C board of governors member Ken McKinnon said the university acted responsibly and worked to ensure illegal donations would not happen in the future.

“The [U of C] has acted ethically in this matter. We’ve taken it very seriously, and the board has taken it very seriously,” said McKinnon in 2012. “Because there is conflicting information, the exact facts are unclear. The university community should be aware that we’ve acted in a responsible leadership manner, internally and externally.”

The CBC’s misfiled FOIP showed the U of C spent $90,000 on legal fees related to the initial FOIP in 2012. U of C president Elizabeth Cannon signed off on the bill from the Norton Rose law firm. The CBC first reported on the $90,000 bill on May 29 2016.

U of C administration declined to comment, stating the events reported by the CBC occurred several years ago and the matter was addressed at that time.

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