Former U of S president travelled 1st class with wife

In his final year as president of the University of Saskatchewan, Peter MacKinnon spent more than $92,000 on travel, CBC News has learned.

Board chair says Peter MacKinnon's travel schedule 'punishing'

In 2012, his final year as president of the University of Saskatchewan, Peter MacKinnon spent more than $92,000 on travel, CBC News has learned.

The MacKinnons respond

Here's what former U of S president Peter MacKinnon told the CBC's French news service in an email:

I doubt that I can add much to what you would have learned from our president and the Board chair. Let me add only that I benefitted — as did the University — from having Janice accompany me on selective international travel, including the legacy travel late in my term of office.

She is well known in Canada and beyond, and her presence and participation always helped me do my job of carrying the story of the University near and far, and seeking understanding and support for its growing profile.

Here's what Janice MacKinnon told the CBC's French news service in an email:

Regarding the expenses listed I have only 3 comments.  First, the travel would have been arranged by the University in accord with University travel policy. 

Regarding the other expenses,  it looks like the figures below are total amounts, which means that the dinners or other events that Peter and hosted for donors or other supporters of the university would generally have been held in the same hotel at which we stayed and the cost added to our bill. 

Finally, I do recall that one of the lunches with an alumnus and his spouse on one of the trips below led very quickly to a contribution of more than $500,000 to the university.

Please accept the previous email and my comments above as my response.

Many of those expenses can be attributed to the fact that he often travelled first class with his wife, former NDP finance minister Janice MacKinnon.

Travel claim forms obtained by CBC's French language service provide details on the expenses of MacKinnon, current President Ilene Busch-Vishniac and vice-presidents at the institution. And they show that MacKinnon's expenses far exceed the others. 

In 2010, MacKinnon spent $65,000 travelling across Canada and around the world. 

In November of that year, he and his wife travelled to Delhi, India, for what is described as a "Canadian university president's mission to India". 

His flight cost $10,489.20 and Janice's flight came in at $9,748.66. 

They stayed at the Taj Palace Hotel for nine nights at a cost of $5,954.25. 

The University of Saskatchewan points out that the president hosted a reception for the other presidents, and the cost of that event is included in the total. 

University approves MacKinnon's expenses

The chair of the university's board,  Susan Milburn, said the institution approves of Janice MacKinnon travelling with her husband at the university's expense.

'In some cultures it is important for there to be a couple there. So when we think about why Janice may have travelled with Peter ... from our perspective it made perfect sense."- U of S board chair Susan Milburn

"In some cultures it is important for there to be a couple there," Milburn said. "So when we think about why Janice may have travelled with Peter ... from our perspective it made perfect sense."

The MacKinnons travelled to London, England in 2011 to visit with donors and university alumni. 

The combined cost of their first class tickets in that case was $19,471.62. MacKinnon's total expenses in that year topped $65,000 once again.

That was followed by an "AUCC (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) led mission to Brazil" in 2012. 
The couple's tickets totalled $22,390.18. 

In that same year they also travelled to Hong Kong and Shanghai for "Presidential Farewell Tours", at a combined cost of $21,091.92 for their flights alone. 

"To Peter's credit, his schedule in the last year was punishing," Milburn said. "The man was travelling all the time at the request of the board."

Milburn believes this was money well spent. 

"Peter MacKinnon always travelled in a reasonable fashion," she said.

"If there was a way to reduce the cost he would have considered that and he would have made a decision on whether that was going to impact his ability to actually do the job when he got there."

Milburn says the board had no concern approving MacKinnon's $92,000 in expenses in 2012 — his final year as president.

Current president expenses

Ilene Busch-Vishniac's travel, by comparison, appears more modest. 

In her first year as president, she spent about $37,000 on travel, which she says is just part of the job. 

There was a time in my youth when I looked forward to travel because it was exciting and fun and now it is drudgery.- U of S president Ilene Busch-Vishniac

"There was a time in my youth when I looked forward to travel because it was exciting and fun and now it is drudgery. I spend hours and hours and hours getting somewhere where I have a 20-minute meeting with someone. But I must have that 20-minute meeting."

So far, Busch-Vishniac has taken just two international trips  one to Hong Kong, and another to Tel Aviv, Israel. The flight in that case cost $4,511.35.

Busch-Vishniac defends her use of first class flights and pricey hotels. 

She says for university presidents it makes little sense to put a cap on travel costs. 

"A limit would force me for instance, when I travel, to be further away from places where I'm meeting with people, to be spending more money on taxi cabs, to be walking further and therefore having to pay more time in finding a place to get something for breakfast. None of that makes any sense."

Busch-Vishniac says the university was happy to provide CBC with the details of her travel expenses and those of her senior administrative colleagues. 

She says the university gave CBC everything it asked for and did it immediately. 

"We believe the public had a right to know," she said.

"You made an appropriate request. We ate that cost. If you would do it again, we would do it again."

She says there's nothing that she regrets about any of her travel expenses. 

Her work and the work of former president Peter MacKinnon has attracted donations to the university had has built the reputation of the institution all around the world, Busch-Vishniac said. 

U of S senior administration travel expenses: 2010-2012


About the Author

Geoff Leo

iTeam Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo has been a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan since 2001. His work has won numerous awards.


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