Dermod Travis: UBC board of governors sheds light on provincial control of local bodies

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      The feud at the University of British Columbia over the sudden departure of president Arvind Gupta—one year into his five-year term—is also casting an unexpected light on the board of governors, a university body that rarely gets so much attention.

      Most universities in the province have 15 members on their board, except for the University of B.C. which has 21 members.

      However, the boards are far from autonomous. The B.C. government appoints a majority of governors in both cases: eight for the smaller boards and 11 at UBC.

      McGill University, founded in 1821, somehow survives without a single government appointee to its 25-member board.

      The Ontario government appoints 16 members to the University of Toronto's board, but that's a far cry from a majority of the 50-member board, 30 of whom are elected to represent various constituencies within the university and the community at large.

      When it comes to doling out appointments, governments are rarely magnanimous about it.

      And if the B.C. government was looking for just the right pedigree with its UBC appointees, did it ever luck out.

      Since 2005, nine of the 11 appointed governors have made personal donations to the B.C. Liberal party totalling $137,395. One of the two that didn't, donated $2,295 through a personal corporation.

      Two of the nine also made donations totalling $4,300 to the B.C. NDP. They're never going to hear the end of that now.

      The board is also a veritable who's who of Vancouver's corporate boardrooms.

      John Montalbano was CEO of RBC Global Asset Management, Douglas Mitchell is national co-chair of Borden Ladner Gervais, and Fiona Macfarlane is a managing partner of Ernst & Young's B.C. practice.

      Throw in the relevant corporate donations and you're looking at another $387,274 to the B.C. Liberals ($12,075 to the NDP by one of the companies).

      One of UBC's governors even went so far as to use a fake name on a radio call-in show to attack an NDP candidate in the 2013 election and that was before he was appointed.

      The B.C. government's power at the local level doesn't end with universities. The umbilical cord is very much in existence with transit and health authorities, police boards, and regional economic development bodies.

      Despite the fact that TransLink serves the Lower Mainland, the minister responsible, Peter Fassbender, recently made his way to Kelowna to announce two new board members to just one of the four boards that seem to be required to keep the beast running.

      All told there are 25 members on TransLink's four boards, only two of whom are elected to local government.

      You won't find anyone who might rock the SeaBus: corporate directors, corporate lawyers, senior executives and, of course, plenty of B.C. Liberal party donors.

      Not exactly the folk you would expect to rub shoulders with on the 99 UBC B-line at rush hour.

      Montreal's transit authority—the Société de transport de Montréal—has a 10-member board, seven of whom are elected to local governments and three who represent specific user groups. None appointed by the Quebec government.

      The long arm of the B.C. government also reaches into local police boards.

      Vancouver's board has nine members, seven of whom are appointed by the B.C. government.

      Toronto's board—overseeing the largest municipal police service in Canada—has seven members: three appointed by the province, the mayor or his designate, two councillors, and one citizen selected by council.

      Same pattern exists with B.C. health authorities.

      All nine members of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority board are appointed by the government. One is former health minister Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid. Six have made donations to the B.C. Liberals.

      The McGill University Health Centre has a larger board, but it's made up of individuals elected by the public, others elected by specific stakeholders, some chosen by the board itself, but not one directly appointed by the Quebec government.

      B.C.'s Northern Development Initiative Trust has a board of 13 individuals, five of whom are appointed by the province and the other eight through four regional advisory committees. No ex-Green party candidates on that board. Six B.C. Liberal party donors, though.

      When so many agencies that most see as local or regional are, in fact, controlled by the B.C. government it puts the very idea of local autonomy into doubt.



      UBC Staff

      Aug 26, 2015 at 2:33pm

      Great report! BC Liberal is everywhere.

      Montalbano needs to leave permanently

      Aug 26, 2015 at 3:46pm

      Not just resign for now.

      The BC govt has its hands in control over UBC but reduces funding 25$ million last year. And Montalbano's RBC posts 2.5$ billion in record profits this quarter.

      And then the university hires a president that it wants to zealously campaign for more funding. You hire someone for gender and diversity and then won't hear about it.

      What a bunch of classless, greedy sleazebags. It's better when the corps have less because then they know the value of what they have. When they are allowed to parade their bottomless greed it's bad for everyone. They need to be brought under control.

      And this incestuous relationship between BC govt control, corporate workers and public boards of governors is corrupt and needs to be brought under the control of morality.

      My UBC

      Aug 26, 2015 at 4:09pm

      Wow!!! No wonder the government is MIA in the UBC fiasco...Running the second best university in Canada is just donation spoils. Who needs competence?

      Just sayin'

      Aug 27, 2015 at 9:00am

      Are you saying the BC Liberals are appointing very successful people to help govern various boards? What an atrocity! UBC should refuse all government money right now and show the BC Government who’s really the boss.

      Just not sayin'

      Aug 27, 2015 at 9:57am

      So Just sayin' , you're sayin' that being successful is good -- no problem with that. Perhaps we could elect members to local and provincial boards instead of having the Government appoint them on a political basis. They might be "successful" business types, or they might not. They might be supporters of a political party or they might be party-free. No need to reward party hacks with mega-bucks because they're party hacks.


      Aug 27, 2015 at 10:22am

      About time this was brought to the attention of people to judge what transparency means.

      G Robertson

      Aug 27, 2015 at 11:48am

      And the CRA disallows any tax credit for donations to political parties above $500 per year, and that's per associated individual (and individuals are associated by being on the same boards. IMO, corporate funds are often expensed as marketing and promotion, so Joe Average, who doesn't get appointed to boards, ends up paying the taxes not paid by the contributors to the political parties.

      And, BC is the only province or territory in Canada which allows unlimited contributions to provincial and municipal political parties.

      The Elections BC website shows political contributions of $32.1 million to the BC Liberal party since January 1, 2005, to December 31, 2014 from donors containing "ltd" in their name, ,$16.2 million from donors containing "inc" and $10.3 million from donors containing "corp". Many of these are publicly trading entities, and $58.6 million in shareholders money has gone to the BC Liberal Party. If expensed as marketing and promotion, at 22 per cent, that'd be almost $13 million in corporate taxes which we've paid on their behalf because they didn't.


      Aug 27, 2015 at 2:56pm

      Wow, is the time you spend looking at staffing comparisons taken out of your two hour lunch break, or your three hour long coffee break?

      You must be a well-regarded professor when you accept Quick Facts as your evidence instead of an actual breakdown of the categories. By your logic, clearly U of T has far too many faculty.


      Aug 27, 2015 at 3:22pm

      This is an article about the Board of Governors. Why are you bringing up the number of staff on campus?