Edmonton·Exclusive

Alberta Pension Services Corporation CEO splits time between Toronto and Edmonton

The government corporation which oversees the pensions of about 330,000 Albertans is managed by a chief executive officer who regularly commutes, at public expense, between Ontario and Edmonton.

Karen Adams regularly expenses travel to and from her Toronto home, receipts show

Expense records show Karen Adams, CEO of the Alberta Pensions Services Corporation, regularly commutes from Edmonton to her home near Toronto at public expense. (Twitter)

The government corporation which oversees the pensions of about 330,000 Albertans is managed by a chief executive officer who regularly commutes, at public expense, between Ontario and Edmonton.

Based on a tip from staff at the Alberta Pension Services Corporation (APSC), CBC News reviewed the posted expenses of Karen Adams, the corporation's CEO. They show Adams appears to spend weeks at a time at her residence on a golf course in King City, just north of Toronto.

But the receipts also show Adams commutes back and forth as many as five times a month, including stays in Edmonton of less than 72 hours.

Adams expenses some travel as "business" trips. But there are no posted documents which explain why she was in Toronto. For most, reasons are provided but some don't explain, or appear to justify, the length of the stay in the Toronto area. 

A few receipts show she stayed in Toronto hotels. But there are several receipts which show Adams expensed taxi service directly to or from Pearson International Airport and King City at a cost of about $90.

Land-title documents show Adams and her husband bought a residence in a golf-course community in King City in May 2011. She became the pension corporation's president and CEO in September 2012. She had previously been an executive with the HSBC bank in several foreign postings.

"I think we should always be hiring the best person for the job," Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt said. "But a general requirement is that if you're going to be working for the Alberta government, you should probably live and spend most of your time in Alberta."

Work here, live here

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark also said anyone running a major government corporation needs to live in the province.

"I know we have got a lot of very capable people in this province who have a lot of strength in the financial field," Clark said.

The corporation did not respond to several interview requests, but in a statement posted on its website late Wednesday, board chair Al Mondor said Adams was hired in 2012 "with the full understanding that her husband and two adolescent children would remain in Ontario.

"Her employment contract provides for travel expenses and acknowledges that when Ms. Adams conducts business in Ontario there would be no accommodation costs."      

Mondor said her salary was set in her 2012 contract with no annual increases.

Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt says taxpayers should not be footing the bill for Adams' personal travel. (File picture)
"Ms. Adams has a residence in Alberta and, as many business leaders, she effectively uses technology to transcend geography," the statement said.

The corporation is a provincially funded agency which helps manage the pensions of more than 330,000 Albertans. It offers administrative services to employers, overseeing $5.1 billion in pension plan funds annually.

The corporation's 2013 annual report, the most-recent one available publicly, shows Adams was paid total compensation of $436,000 a year. The corporation did not respond to a request for the most recent annual report.

Foreign postings before Alberta

While Adams is not prepared to move her family to Alberta, in a February 2012 feature in the Globe and Mail, she talked about how moving to foreign countries was essential for her career growth.

The article says Adams joined HSBC Canada in Vancouver 17 years before and was encouraged to seize the opportunity to work abroad. She subsequently worked for the bank in Dubai, India, Hong Kong, South Korea, China, Jordan and England.

"I know it has helped my career," Adams told the newspaper, adding later in the article that it was difficult to uproot her husband and two young children.

Fildebrandt said the posted travel expenses of Adams appear to show "that taxpayers are footing the bill for (Adams') personal travel.

"Not just business, point A to B, but personal travel, which should be very alarming especially in that it seems that they have found some kind of loophole around the primary expense disclosure that we have."

There is no mention in the corporation's annual reports, dating back to the hiring of Adams in September 2012, of any sort of contractual agreement which would allow the CEO to commute, or telecommute, to her job in Edmonton.

Expense claims

The expense claims include meals in Edmonton and Ontario, and guests are sometimes named. But there are several claims for meals in Edmonton which simply state her guest was an APSC employee, or for some of the Ontario meals there is no indication whom she dined with.

"From time to time, it might not be unreasonable for senior government officials to have a meal that is a little more expensive than Burger King," Fildebrandt said. "But we need to have proper disclosure around that; what was the purpose of the meal and who was there?

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark says the new NDP government has an opportunity to increase transparency at agencies like the APSC.
"The disclosure is there so that taxpayers who are actually paying the bill for this kind of thing can make that determination for themselves," he said.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark said the recent change of government in Alberta provides an opportunity to increase oversight and accountability of  the province's hundreds of agencies, boards and corporations.

"I would like to see a lot more oversight from the legislature, from the MLAs, and a lot less work going on behind closed doors in the minister's office," Clark said.

"I think there is an opportunity to work with the new (New Democrat) government to really shine a light on a lot of things that have gone on behind closed doors, under the (Progressive Conservatives)."

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