UCP sweeps NDP governance appointments out of post-secondary institutions

Alberta's United Conservative government announced a complete overhaul of the governance of Alberta's colleges and universities Friday, removing many appointments made by the former NDP government.

Michael Phair, Ray Martin out as chairs of University of Alberta and NAIT

Michael Phair was a popular city councillor and community activist for many years. Recently a school was named after him. (CBC)

Alberta's United Conservative government announced a comprehensive overhaul of the governance of Alberta's colleges and universities Friday, removing many appointments made by the former NDP government.

Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides denied political cronyism was at play. He said competancy, connection to industry and experience managing large organizations were the criteria used in choosing appointees.

"There was no partisanship involved in the process," he said. "Determination was on skill set."

Friday's changes marked a massive sweep of the boards that govern Alberta's post-secondary institutions. Many of the names have connections to the business world. 

Nicolaides said the emphasis was on hiring board members who could make the changes that would give students a better chance getting a job after graduation — in other words, matching programs to what is required by the labour market. 

Two of the highest profile NDP appointees were pushed aside. 

Former Edmonton city councillor and LGBTQ rights pioneer Michael Phair will be replaced by Kate Chisholm, a senior vice-president and Chief Legal and Sustainability Office for Capital Power.

Phair was appointed to the chair of the University of Alberta's board of governors in February 2016.

Ray Pisani, president and CEO of Alberta Blue Cross, replaces former NDP Leader Ray Martin as the chair of the board of governors of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). 

Alex Pourbaix, CEO of energy company Cenovus, has been named as board chair at Mount Royal University.

Sue Mallon, the former chair, was appointed by the NDP government in December 2016. 

Jill Wyatt, another NDP appointment, is out as the chair of the University of Calgary's board.

Geeta Sankappanavar, president of Grafton Asset Management, will take her place. According to Elections Alberta,  Grafton Asset Management donated $25,000 last year to Shaping Alberta's Future, a pro-UCP political action committee (PAC).

When asked for comment about the donation from Sankappanavar's company, a spokesman for the premier's office said it wasn't a factor in her appointment. 

"Political donations did not play a part in any appointments," said Harrison Fleming, deputy press secretary, in an email. "If you look at the donation history of each new appointee, I am sure you would find some who donated to a variety of organizations across the political spectrum."

All told, the provincial government appointed new board members at 11 of Alberta's post-secondary institutions.

NDP Advanced Education Critic David Eggen warned the sweep was like a return to the days when former Progressive Conservative governments appointed their allies to agencies, boards and commissions. 

"This is a shameful return to the bad old days of cronyism and political favours given out in exchange for services and/or money," Eggen said. 

While the NDP named their allies to similar positions, Eggen claimed the system introduced by his government required prospective appointees to apply and undergo interviews. 

Eggen said the NDP also waited until terms ran out before naming people to positions.

Keith Brownsey, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said the UCP is rolling back the clock on the NDP's attempts to modernize the process. 

"It's not that the New Democrats weren't partisan but at least their process was transparent and accountable," Brownsey said. "There seems to be no transparency or accountability here. Welcome to 1950."

Energy executives 

Nicolaides said his UCP government will review the process set up by the NDP to see if it is suitable. 

Several of the new board chair appointments were given to energy executives. Berkshire Hathaway Energy Canada president and former AltaLink CEO Scott Thon is the new board chair at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technolgy (SAIT).

Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said appointees were chosen for their skills not their political inclinations. (CBC)

Shelley Powell, senior vice president, oil sands base plant at Suncor Energy, takes over the chair of Keyano College's board of governors in Fort McMurray.

Other high profile appointees include former provincial Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Donna Kennedy-Glans to the board of the Banff Centre, president and CEO of Perpetual Energy Sue Riddell-Rose to the board of Mount Royal University and former PC MLA Janice Sarich to the board of MacEwan University.

Edmonton Chamber of Commerce president Janet Riopel has been appointed to the NAIT board and former Conservative MP James Rajotte to the University of Alberta board. 

Here is the full list of post-secondary appointments: 

Athabasca University Board of Governors

  • Nancy M. Laird, board chair
  • Bryan Berg, public member
  • IIario (Larry) Spagnolo, public member

Banff Centre Board of Governors

  • Adam Waterous, board chair
  • Patricia Brister, public member
  • Donna Kennedy-Glans, QC, public member

Bow Valley College Board of Governors

  • Dwayne Dubois, public member

Grande Prairie Regional College Board of Governors

  • Ron Wiebe, public member
  • Lydell Torgerson, public member
  • Brent Cage, public member

Keyano College Board of Governors

  • Shelley Powell, board chair
  • Kim Farwell, public member
  • Christian Matte, public member
  • Joe MacNeil, public member
  • Staci Millard, public member

MacEwan University Board of Governors

  • Carolyn Graham, board chair
  • Adam Guiney, public member
  • Samantha Kernahan, public member
  • Janice Sarich, public member

Mount Royal University Board of Governors

  • Alex Pourbaix, board chair
  • Karl Johannson, public member
  • Chris Lee, public member
  • Carrie Lonardelli, public member
  • Sue Riddell-Rose, public member

Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Board of Governors

  • Ray Pisani, board chair
  • Kris Mauthe, public member
  • Marlea Sleeman, public member
  • Kristina Williams, public member
  • Janet Riopel, public member
  • Paul Verhesen, public member

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Board of Governors

  • Scott Thon, board chair
  • Tonya Fleming, public member
  • Lara Murphy, public member
  • James Cameron Bailey, public member

University of Alberta Board of Governors

  • Kathryn (Kate) Chisholm, board chair
  • Daniel Eggert, public member
  •  Larry Kaumeyer, public member
  • Rakesh Saraf, public member
  • Tom Ross, public member
  • James Rajotte, public member

University of Calgary Board of Governors

  • Geeta Sankappanavar, board chair
  • Heather Christie-Burns, public member
  • Cody Church, public member