The University of Calgary president admits mistakes were made surrounding the spending of board chair Doug Black, who is also an Alberta Senator-in-waiting.
"We are fixing those and looking how we can strengthen the oversight ... and ensure that those kind of mistakes don't get made in the future," Elizabeth Cannon told CBC News on Monday afternoon.
Black claimed more than $28,000 in expenses in an 18-month period, including first-class flights and luxury hotels, according to documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
The previous board chair, Jack Perraton, claimed a total of $434 in three and a half years.
Black claimed several first-class flights to Toronto, Vancouver and other cities.
He also claimed nearly $1,300 for a two-night stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston and the same amount for two nights at Toronto's Ritz Carleton.
The University of Calgary reimbursed Black for these expenses, and others, even though its policy only allows economy flights and standard rooms.
Position not paid
"Our board members are great volunteers," says Cannon. "They don't get paid a salary nor an honorarium. They volunteer their time to the betterment of our university and we are very fortunate to have them.
"All of the work that the board chair has done has been on university business," she stressed.
Cannon said some of that business — such as alumni events — happen in other communities.
Expenses claimed by Black include:
- $508.95 per night at the Four Seasons in Houston
- $2,200.78 for a board dinner at the Ranchmen's Club, including $550 for wine
- $358.04 for one night at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver
- $112.45 for dinner for Black and U of C president Elizabeth Cannon at Il Sogno on April 4, 2011
- $120 for a private driver to transport Black to and from dinner with Cannon at Il Sogno on April 4, 2011
Cannon also told CBC News the university will move to comply with new spending disclosure rules announced last week by Premier Alison Redford.
"We will also focus on the compliance side, ensuring all of eligible expenses are paid and that we have the processes internally, strong financial controls to deliver on those policies," says Cannon.
Black outpolled all other candidates in this year's provincial Senate race, held in conjunction with Alberta's election, which means he is first in line to replace Alberta Senator Joyce Fairbairn, who is suffering from dementia.
The documents also show the university paid half the fare for a return flight for Black from Miami to Calgary to attend a board of governors meeting in December last year.
Some errors already remedied
While in Calgary, Black often hired personal limousines to attend university functions or ferry him to the airport, rather than driving himself.
On Sept. 23 last year, Black hired a limo to take him to and from the Ranchmen's Club in Calgary for a board of governors' dinner before a board meeting.
He expensed the board's dinner — more than $2,000 — plus $260 for the limo ride.
Black also expensed a $112 dinner with Cannon.
Cannon defended the spending, saying the dinner at the upscale Italian restaurant Il Sogno in the spring of 2011 was an opportunity for the two to get to know each other shortly after his appointment as board chair.
"It was an opportunity, given our busy schedules, to get together, to get to know one another.... It was a one-off event and justified given his new role and the importance of our relationship," said Cannon.
Last week, the U of C disclosed that a quarterly review of the chairman's expenses in June found two errors in Black's claims.
One error made by Black was claiming first-class flights and Black "promptly" cut the university a cheque for nearly $5,400. The other was claiming liquor, for which the chairman wrote another cheque for $56.