Nfld. & Labrador

MUN hosts $109K conference at high-end Fogo Island Inn

Last fall, the president of Memorial University chaired a conference that cost nearly $110,000 — more than half of which came directly from university coffers.

MUN paid for over half the cost of the event

In November, Memorial University hosted a four-day conference that took place partially at the high-end Fogo Island Inn. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Last fall, the president of Memorial University chaired a conference that cost nearly $110,000 — more than half of which came directly from university coffers.

The four-day Arctic Forum, which involved nearly 40 delegates from Canada and Norway, took place in St. John's and at the high-end Fogo Island Inn from Nov. 3-6. 

"Holding the event at the Inn helps attract top delegates and presenters while highlighting Newfoundland and Labrador as a premier destination for world-class events and conferences," said a university spokesperson in an emailed statement.

The cheapest room at the Fogo Island Inn costs $2,875 a night for a minimum three-night stay, according to the resort's website.

According to a university spokesperson, MUN spent $56,657 on the event, with some other funds coming from department travel budgets. Another $24,453 came from federal sources, while the rest came from attendees.

The spokesperson said the event "brings together representatives from Canada and Norway to discuss shared experiences, establish areas of opportunity, and develop partnerships and collaborations that have the potential to benefit both regions."

VOCM was first to report the cost of the event. 

Federal MPs among attendees

Last November's event was the third iteration of the Arctic Forum, which began in 2015. The conference is a partnership between MUN, the University of Tromsø and the Shorefast Foundation, the organization that owns the Fogo Island Inn.

According to the MUN Gazette, Timmons was scheduled to host a panel discussion about the role of women in Arctic leadership, while Fogo Island Inn founder Zita Cobb was scheduled to give a presentation focused on Shorefast.

Attendees included federal officials, Canada's ambassador to Norway, Norway's ambassador to Canada, Norwegian academics and MUN faculty and staff.

Federal Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings and Labrador MP Yvonne Jones were among the federal delegates, according to photos posted on Hutching's Facebook page.

In a tweet, Memorial University's faculty association criticized the cost of the event.

The faculty association and the university are in conciliation to reach a collective agreement. In a statement Thursday, the association said members are prepared to walk off the job if an agreement is not reached by midnight on Monday.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Progressive Conservative MHA Barry Petten criticized the cost of the conference in light of rising tuition and crumbling campus infrastructure.

"It comes across to the common person in Newfoundland and Labrador as elitism," he said. "There's no other way of describing it."

In April, the provincial government asked the auditor general to scrutinize spending and operations at the university.

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Darrell Roberts is a reporter for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.