U of Calgary president eligible for $4.5M pension

Outgoing University of Calgary president Harvey Weingarten stands to collect as much as $4.75 million during the life of his pension payout after he leaves the job next January.
Harvey Weingarten announced last February that he is stepping down as president of the University of Calgary. ((CBC News))

Outgoing University of Calgary president Harvey Weingarten stands to collect as much as $4.75 million during the life of his pension payout after he leaves the job next January.

Terms of the pension agreement Weingarten has with the university have drawn scrutiny from Fred Dunn, Alberta's Auditor General, whose office is investigating why the university did not, until recently, make the terms of the pension deal public.

The pension revelation comes at a time when the university is experiencing financial pressures. In the summer, Weingarten warned as many as 200 jobs would be cut in an attempt to reduce an estimated $14-million budget shortfall.

University officials contend there will be no massive lump sum payout as part of the pension. They said a topped-up pension package was used to help recruit Weingarten.

When Weingarten was recruited in 2001 from Ontario's McMaster University in Hamilton, he negotiated that part of his University of Calgary contract would include a pension benefit to reflect the 22 years he worked in Hamilton.

Weingarten, who is in his early 50's, announced in February that he planned to retire early.

The value of the university's pension obligation to the president was missing from several years of financial statements. But the university said that was a mistake that has since been corrected.

While the provincial auditor general's office has confirmed the correction, Dunn's office wouldn't make any further comment on the oversight. The auditor general is expected to produce a public report in October.

The University of Calgary's board of governors said the fact the pension liability numbers were left off the books for six years, beginning in 2002, was unfortunate. Board chairman Jack Perraton said the accounting error was noticed internally when Weingarten was renegotiating his contract in January 2007. Basically, the pension package wasn't included as a liability in the university's financial statements, Perraton said. But the size of the potential payout is not out of line with what any CEO at the helm of a major organization would earn in potential pension benefits, he said.

"We're in a situation where he's resigned," Perraton told CBC News Monday. "There's no package, there's no payment — absolutely nothing going from the university to him in that sense.

"But he's leaving. And just as if you were leaving your job, he's entitled to his pension. And that's all that's really happening is the reported amount of the potential cost of his pension over the next many, many years."

Shirley Maki of local 52 of the Alberta Union of Public Employees described the payout — about double the amount the institution's highest-paid faculty member would receive — as unprecedented. "I think that's a ridiculous figure," said Maki. "Even a great hockey player doesn't receive that kind of money."

But Calgary financial planner Mike Gilchrist said while the figure may sound like a lot of money, and it is, Weingarten has served the university at a high level and has earned a significant salary in doing so. The pension benefit is not out of line with comparable jobs, he suggested.

"It is a lot of money," said Gilchrist. "But he ... was a highly paid individual and there's a lot of life left in him."