June 18, 2014 9:40 pm

B.C. NDP slams minister over university report

WATCH: Liberal MLA Amrik Virk is facing calls to step down. Aaron McArthur reports.

VICTORIA – British Columbia’s Opposition New Democrats are calling on Premier Christy Clark to boot her minister of advanced education from cabinet after a report concluded he served on a university board of directors that knowingly broke government disclosure rules.

The premier, however, says Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk is staying put.

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“Amrik Virk has taken responsibility for how compensation was disclosed at Kwantlen Polytechnic University three years ago,” said a statement issued by Clark Wednesday.

“He’s committed to making sure the rules and the intent of rules are followed. I have spoken to him and have absolute confidence in him and his ability to serve as minister of advanced education.”

The Finance Ministry report issued a day earlier found Virk and the rest of the board at the Vancouver-area Kwantlen Polytechnic University failed to meet government disclosure requirements by topping up salaries of senior executives to sweeten job offers.

NDP Leader John Horgan said the report should either prompt Virk’s resignation or firing, since Virk is now in charge of post-secondary education in the province.

“Mr. Virk has had a day to reflect upon that (report) and still remains in his mind the minister responsible,” said Horgan. “More troubling is the premier has had a day to reflect on that and has not sought his resignation.”

The report investigated Kwantlen hiring practices dating back at least three years for a university vice-president and president, at a time when Virk, a former Mountie, was a volunteer board member.

The report found Kwantlen offered former vice president Anne Lavack a $50,000 pre-employment contract without the board’s knowledge, but in 2012 knowingly approved a similar $50,000 pre-employment offer to current university president Alan Davis.

“Mr. Virk has clearly demonstrated that he doesn’t believe that the rules are there to be followed,” Horgan said. “He is now in a position to ensure that other people follow those rules. That strikes me at a minimum to be a conflict of interest.”

When the report was released, Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the findings were troubling and Virk’s actions while on the board were not acceptable, but he did not call for anyone involved, including Virk, to be punished.

Instead, de Jong said the report recommended government employment bureaucrats at the Post-Secondary Employers’ Association and the Public Sector Employer’s Council and staff within the Advanced Education Ministry conduct mandatory one-day disclosure and reporting sessions every year for executives handling employment issues.

The report also recommended board members at post-secondary institutions be made aware of their responsibilities and obligations when it comes transparency in disclosing compensation agreements.

On Wednesday, Virk repeated that he was humbled by the report’s findings and could have done a better job, but will not resign.

“It’s clear that at the time as a board member, I could have done better,” said Virk. “There were failures. I was part of that board at that time.”

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