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NDP 'wrong' on university pay cap claims: Virk

Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk is under fire again over pay cap violations at B.C. universities. - File photo
Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk is under fire again over pay cap violations at B.C. universities.
— image credit: File photo

Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk says the NDP is wrong in its claims that more B.C. universities have paid senior executives more than permitted under salary caps set by the provincial government.

The NDP obtained salary cap details for three universities – Capilano University, the University of the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island University – and said reported compensation paid to 14 executives at the schools exceeded their caps by a total of more than $1.1 million over three years.

Financial disclosures show the three universities paid their presidents between $230,000 and $245,000 in the last year – more in each case than their $225,000 caps, according to the NDP.

"What is the point in having caps in the first place if they're basically meaningless and you're not going to enforce them?" asked NDP advanced education critic David Eby.

The Public Sector Employers Council, which enforces the policy, has since refused to disclose pay caps for other B.C. post-secondary institutions, prompting the Opposition to accuse Virk of covering up further violations in the wake of a recent probe of overpayments at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

But in a statement emailed by his office, Virk said the caps on presidents' total compensation do not apply to other senior post-secondary executives, who are instead subject to a salary range approved by PSEC.

Those ranges don't include additional benefits and pension, which he said the NDP mistakenly counted in its calculations, adding about 20 per cent.

Virk also said total compensation for presidents can fluctuate year to year due to higher benefit and pension costs beyond the employer's control, and due to one-time payments such as unused vacation payouts.

"The critic’s misinterpretation is intended to make it appear that these individuals are being paid outside the compensation they should be paid," he said.

Virk said institution board chairs have given signed confirmations that that executive compensation was paid out in line with approved plans.

Virk previously faced calls to resign for his role before being elected MLA as a director on the board of Kwantlen, where an investigation found extra $50,000 signing bonuses under the guise of consulting fees were made to the president and vice-president to circumvent their pay caps.

Virk has admitted he erred in agreeing to the payments in 2010-12, saying he wasn't properly informed of the rules.

Virk told Eby in a May 27 letter that the precise caps on public sector pay aren't made public so they don't become a negotiating floor on salary when governing boards are in talks to hire new executives.

Eby said continued secrecy around pay caps gives the appearance of a minister unwilling to properly enforce rules that he himself has broken.

He said the situation is a mess because some schools have observed the caps, Kwantlen sought to hide extra payments and others "blatantly" spent more.

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