$20K on retreats to golf courses highlights list of MUN hosting expenses
'If the result could be achieved without spending the money, then I guess you'd have to question that'
Senior staff at Memorial University have spent thousands of dollars on retreats to golf resorts and fruitless searches for new administrators.
In a document obtained by CBC News, hosting expenses are listed over a five-year period from 2010 to 2015.
The 31-page spreadsheet shows more than $20,000 spent on retreats for the dean's council, as well as hundreds of catered events and dinners for guests.
In recent weeks, the university has said it is struggling to find ways to cut costs as the government continues to slash its budget.
Advanced Education Minister Gerry Byrne has fired back by taking aim at the administration's discretionary spending.
Weekends at the Wilds
The documents show then-provost David Wardlaw had a penchant for golf course retreats.
Four such events took place at the Wilds, a resort on Salmonier Line. Those trips ranged from $2,386 to $6,596, with between 20 and 43 attendees.
While those expenses do not include rounds of golf, it does include accommodations and meals, said Memorial University communications manager David Sorensen.
Another retreat was to Admiral's Green golf course in Pippy Park, hosting 40 people over the course of a day for $2,179.
In total, the golf-related events expensed by Wardlaw come to $21,840.
Thousands expensed in hiring search
After Wardlaw announced his retirement, Noreen Golfman took on the role as provost on an interim basis in September 2014.
The search then began for a permanent provost.
These searches often gathered 10-15 people together for catered meetings, which were expensed by university president Gary Kachanoski.
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After six catered meetings about the search for a provost, Kachanoski hosted a definitive seventh meeting — four days at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John's for 15 people, costing $5,108.
Four days later, the board of regents approved Golfman as the permanent provost. Nobody new was hired.
Discretionary spending or spending habit
Byrne's rallying cry became a $755 dinner at Bacalao, expensed by deputy provost Cecilia Reynolds.
While the nine-person dinner may have been a reasonable value, it was just one of 11 claims Reynolds made that week.
Those 11 claims totaled $2,285 in nothing other than food.
People should be cautious in drawing conclusions from numbers, Byrne said, but MUN's pattern of spending presents a problem.
Something like searching for a new provost is a good expenditure, he said, but there was office space and accommodations available at the university for free.
"If the result could be achieved without spending the money, then I guess you'd have to question that."
Those who live in glass houses?
Some have tried to turn the debate around on Byrne, who is allotted $65,000 for his operational costs this year.
At a time when most other cabinet ministers saw cuts to their operating accounts, Byrne's department saw a 25 per cent increase in the 2017 budget.
The increase is due to his portfolio expanding to include labour, which will require more provincial-federal meetings across Canada.
There is some time with family ... I don't think anyone begrudges that.- Gerry Byrne
When the house is sitting, Byrne, like most other MHAs from outside the Avalon, stays at a hotel and travels home each weekend.
Those flights home cost about $600 for a round trip, but can vary depending on the season. A trip in December 2015, shortly after he was elected, shows a travel cost of $1,739 for "ministerial duties."
The trips home are for work, he said, even though they are on weekends and some are no more than a day or two.
"There is some time with family. I think that's natural," Byrne said. "I don't think anyone out there begrudges that."
In their operational budget, members of the House of Assembly are given a constituency allowance to cover expenses in their home area.
While many MHAs use this fund to pay for dinners and events, Byrne's only expenses since being elected were $22 on a breakfast with constituents and $90 for wreaths on July 1.