In Depth

Grande Prairie college donated $5,000 to Tories

Grande Prairie Regional College spent more than $5,000 for board members and senior executives to attend Conservative party functions between 2006 and 2010.

Grande Prairie Regional College spent more than $5,000 for board members and senior executives to attend Conservative party functions between 2006 and 2010.

The Tory party issued receipts directly to the college, but its president and board chair say every cent was supposed to have been reimbursed. Unfortunately, some donations "slipped through the cracks."

"The error that was made was that we didn’t follow through on our reimbursement processes," said college president Don Gnatiuk.

Gnatiuk said the college had a policy to ensure no taxpayers’ money was used for political purposes.

"Our practice was that we would take care of the tables (at premiers’ fundraising dinners) and then, those who would attend, would reimburse the college," Gnatiuk said.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information show that in 2009 and 2010, the college paid a total of $3,500 for a table at two fundraising dinners.

No evidence donations repaid

There is nothing in the documents that show the college sought reimbursement from anyone. Nor is there any evidence of a policy prescribing reimbursement for political donations.

Gnatiuk conceded it would be difficult for many people to believe that all 20 people, including himself, who attended these two events either forgot to pay back the college, or the college forgot to pursue them for the money, or a combination of both.

When it was later suggested to Gnatiuk that the more logical explanation was that there was never any intention for this money to be reimbursed, he said: "That is a fair assumption."

On Jan. 10, the Wildrose party revealed that the University of Lethbridge had provided $15,000 in support to the Tory party. Documents show that on Jan. 11, Gnatiuk sent an email to one of his staff asking her to determine their "liability" related to political donations over the past five years.

On Jan. 23, the college received the freedom of information request from CBC News seeking documents related to political donations. Documents show that on Jan. 26, Gnatiuk repaid the college on behalf of the college of the board of governors for the donation made to the premiers’ 2010 fundraising dinner.

"At the time, processes at (Grande Prairie Regional College) were not sufficiently robust to ensure timely reimbursement by participants," the document accompanying the payment receipt stated.

Gnatiuk said a "private individual" gave him the money to make the repayment on behalf of the board members, but he refused to identify that individual.

President surprised to learn he made donation to Tories

Gnatiuk was surprised to learn from CBC News that the Tory party had personally attributed to him the college’s $1,500 payment for the 2009 fundraising dinner. Gnatiuk said he charged that payment to his college corporate credit card, but he did not personally make that donation. He has asked Elections Alberta to help sort it out.

"But that money will be reimbursed," he said. "Nothing will come out of the college’s pocket."

There is no mention in the documents of board members or executives ever attending fundraising events for other political parties. Still, board chair Vince Vavrek insisted the college is apolitical.

 "There is certainly no intent whatsoever to be selective or supporting one particular party," said Vavrek. "If there is an event, we try to attend those things. It really doesn’t matter if it is PC or Liberal or whatever the case might be."