University of Calgary investigation into Enbridge controversy clears Elizabeth Cannon

A report commissioned by the University of Calgary concludes there were no breaches of university policies or procedures in the institution's relationship with pipeline company Enbridge.

Review concludes university president acted with 'integrity in all matters'

In an interview with CBC in November, Elizabeth Cannon said despite her role with Enbridge at the time, 'every time I speak, it is as a university president and president of the University of Calgary.' (CBC)

A report commissioned by the University of Calgary concludes there were no breaches of university policies or procedures in the institution's relationship with pipeline company Enbridge.

The University of Calgary launched the independent review of its Centre for Corporate Sustainability after a CBC News investigation raised questions about the centre's relationship with its one-time namesake sponsor, Enbridge.

"Nobody from the university was found to have done anything inappropriate in the context of our policies and procedures, or in the context of academic freedom," said Gord Ritchie, vice-chair of the university's board of governors, in an interview.

Last month, university president Elizabeth Cannon resigned from her role as independent director of the Enbridge Income Fund. Last year, her compensation for that board position amounted to $130,500.

The review was conducted by Retired Justice Terrence McMahon.

McMahon's investigation included conflict of interest concerns regarding Cannon and Enbridge.

McMahon states: "I conclude unequivocally that Dr. Cannon's involvement in matters arising from the operation of the Enbridge Centre was proper, responsible and required of her as president to protect the reputation of the University of Calgary as an institution that honours its commitment to donors."

The University of Calgary launched its own investigation after a CBC probe. (University of Calgary)

Cannon welcomed the report, stating she was "pleased that there was no evidence to support the suggestion that Enbridge sought or was granted any inappropriate influence on the academic practices of the university." 

Cannon has admitted there's been "learnings" from the experience with the Enbridge Centre. McMahon's report does not provide any recommendations, nor does it suggest whether there should be improved policies and procedures on campus.

The students union and faculty association at the university have both criticized the scope of the review as not broad enough.

For example, the organizations wanted an examination of board oversight of corporate gifts, and also a review of processes and decisions to ensure that all other corporate naming and sponsorships have properly addressed issues of conflict and perceived conflict. The findings should also be sent to the the Office of the Ethics Commissioner for further review, said the groups.

"I wish some of those questions would have been asked," Students' Union president Levi Nilson told CBC News. "This was narrow in scope, but I think within that scope, it was pretty comprehensive."

Neither Cannon or McMahon were made available for an interview.

CBC probe

The CBC investigation included complaints from professors and emails obtained from a freedom of information request. The investigation suggested a pattern of corporate influence by Enbridge, a university bending over backward to accommodate the apparent public relations ambitions of a corporate patron and the dismissed concerns about academic independence by professors.

From the outset of the creation of the new academic centre on campus, Enbridge was actively involved, according to the email trail. 

Beyond naming rights, the emails show Enbridge sought to influence board memberships, staffing and the type of students that would be considered for awards. 

The company brought in its own communications firm to publicize the centre's launch and desired "customized opportunities" for Enbridge executives and clients to meet with researchers at the U of C.

In addition, Enbridge expected the U of C would form a partnership with a university in Michigan in what some have suggested was an attempt to help recuperate its battered corporate reputation in the state after a broken pipeline spilled millions of litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River.

Faculty members, such as business professor Harrie Vredenburg, described Enbridge's influence at the university as a classic case of "he who pays the piper calls the tunes" in an email complaint to the dean of the Haskayne School of Business on Aug. 26, 2011. 

"Enbridge is doing too much tune calling, in my view, to the point that the centre's usefulness to [Haskayne school] academics is being sacrificed to Enbridge's PR objectives," Vredenburg wrote.

"Most damningly it smacks of us being apologists for the fossil fuel industry rather than independent scholars and teachers doing work in broadly defined areas." 

Enbridge's role

Enbridge denied the partnership was about publicity, but instead suggested the partnership between the two universities would offer a shared learning experience about the company's spill in Michigan.

In McMahon's report, he writes "the Enbridge board had to be able to justify committing to the payment of $2.25 million. That justification was to be found in repair to a damaged public image in Michigan and to reinforcement of its considerable stature in Calgary."

Enbridge was pleased with the results of the university's review.

"The report reinforces our originally stated position that there was no evidence to support the suggestion that we sought, or were granted, any inappropriate influence on the academic practices of the university," said spokesman Graham White in an emailed statement.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers is conducting its own investigation to examine alleged violations of academic freedom and conflict of interest at the university.