Edmonton·In Depth

Portage College donated $7,600 to Tories

Portage College never made any secret of its close relationship with the Conservative party and its local MLAs.

Portage College never made any secret of its close relationship with the Conservative party and its local MLAs.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information show the small college, headquartered in Lac La Biche, illegally spent more than $7,600 of taxpayers’ money on Conservative party and local riding association fundraisers since 2004.

There is no mention in those documents of financial support for any other political parties.

Minutes of board meetings show the college’s financial support for the Tories was openly discussed and its president actively recruited board members to attend Tory fundraising events.

College executives, including college president Trent Keough, attended premiers’ dinners, and golf tournaments for Conservative MLAs Ray Danyluk and Jeff Johnson.

Documents show the college attended nearly every golf tournament hosted by Danyluk dating back to 2004. Danyluk told CBC News in October he had no idea the college was using public money to attend his fundraising events.

In 2008, the college bought an entire table for $800 to attend a retirement roast for Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Denis Ducharme and in 2009 spent another $800 of taxpayers’ money to attend that same riding association’s Harvest fundraiser.

Emails show that in 2010, the college not only agreed to buy an entire table for 10 at Premier Ed Stelmach’s fundraiser for $650, they also agreed to pay for an MLA or minister to sit at their table.

College ended Tory donations in 2011

The college ended its practice of illegal donations to the Tory party only after CBC News first exposed one of the donations in October 2011.

In June that same year, Portage College paid $750 to send four golfers, including Keough, to the Cormorant Classic, Danyluk’s annual fundraiser.

Leona Geller, the college’s manager of public relations, told CBC News in October that it never occurred to her that it was a partisan event, even though the invitation prominently featured a photo of Danyluk and specified the event was sponsored by the Lac La Biche – St. Paul PC Association.

Geller insisted it was an isolated "mistake" and it was her fault that college officials, including the president, unwittingly ended up golfing in a Tory fundraiser.

"I thought it was a good networking opportunity and said, ‘Go with it,’" she told CBC in an October interview.

 But, as the documents show, the college had openly, financially supported numerous Tory fundraisers – sometimes several in a single year – for at least seven years with the full knowledge of the board, its current president and its previous president.

Geller declined a recent interview request on behalf of herself, Keough and board chair Brydon Ward.