B.C. university salary caps exceeded by millions, says NDP

Salary caps at B.C. post-secondary institutions are being exceeded by millions of dollars per year, according to figures released by David Eby, the B.C. NDP's advanced education critic.

NDP critic questions salary overpayments at several institutions

MLA David Eby says Vancouver island University is one of three institutions that exceeded the salary cap for their top executives. (VIU)

Salary caps at B.C. post-secondary institutions are being exceeded by millions of dollars per year, according to figures released Monday by David Eby, the B.C. NDP's advanced education critic.

Eby obtained the stated salary ranges for three B.C. institutions from the Public Sector Employer's Council (PSEC) — Capilano University, University of the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island University — and compared them to the required executive compensation reports of each institution's highest paid five executives from 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The figures showed that between them, the executives were paid almost $1.1 million over the stated caps, suggesting, Eby says, that there could well be a lot more money being paid out over the top of stated salary ranges at other B.C. post-secondary institutions.

"So we wrote to [PSEC] and said, 'What the heck is going on? Why is this so far beyond, and why are people getting raises?'", Eby says. "Eight of nine executives that we had full salary information for got raises."

The agency did not respond, Eby says.

Critic confused says minister

Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk told CBC News that Eby was confusing salary ranges with total compensation packages, which fluctuate year to year, "due to increases in benefit and pension costs beyond the employer’s control, and one-time payments such as unused vacation payouts."

Virk said a number of measures are in place to ensure compliance and full disclosure around executive compensation.

“Public post-secondary board chairs have provided signed attestations verifying that compensation has been paid within an approved plan and disclosed according to the guidelines,” he said.

Vancouver Island University also issued a response saying, "The figures used in the opposition report include both salary and benefits (the largest of which are the health benefits and pension contributions), but often reference a cap that does not include benefits.

"Our current president’s total compensation is above the cap as it was negotiated in 2006, before the compensation cap was announced in 2007. The president's base salary has not increased since his date of hire."

Initial request denied

But Eby says that a request he made to Virk for details of the caps in every B.C. post-secondary institution was initially responded to with a promise to supply the information, but was followed up months later with a refusal.

"We got no response from the agency," Eby says. "And then we got a letter from the minister saying that the caps themselves were secret and he had said he could give us the caps, but he wasn't going to give them to us anymore."

In the letter from Virk, provided to CBC by Eby, the minister says that while government "establishes a framework for total compensation limits for the CEOs and presidents of the majority of public-sector employers", they do not make them public in order to 'avoid their becominga floor in negotiations between boards and prospective CEOs".

Last month, the B.C. NDP called for Amrik Virk's resignation after a government investigation revealed the minister's involvement in deliberately skirting disclosure rules to give what amounted to a $50,000 signing bonus to an incoming senior executive at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

And education isn't the only area where executives have been found to receive extra compensation. Just last week, the Royal BC Museum in Victoria had its budget cut by $50,000 by government — almost the exact amount of an un-approved signing bonus given to their new CEO when he was hired in 2012.

See the spreadsheet detailing the salaries exceeding the institution's caps

Read the full letter from Advanced Education minister Amrik Virk to David Eby