Mohawk College president has a secret contract
Province urges post-secondary institution to be open, accountable
THE PRESIDENT of Mohawk College receives a second salary of at least $91,000 plus expenses from the foundation that raises money for the school.
The contract and expenses are kept secret from the public and are exempt from provincial rules and freedom of information requests.
“This causes me considerable concern,” said Deputy Premier Deb Matthews.
The province is assessing whether the arrangement is the only one of its kind in Ontario.
The hidden contract means Ron McKerlie was paid a combined salary of $351,408.51 in 2015 when his foundation wages are added to the $260,208.67 he got from the college.
That is 26 per cent more than what was publicly disclosed on the Sunshine List.
Matthews is calling on Mohawk’s leaders to “demonstrate integrity” and make McKerlie’s foundation contract public.
“If a college executive is receiv- ing two separate salaries for the day-to-day functions of their college and their foundation, their full compensation for both positions should be made public,” said Matthews, minister of advanced education and skills development.
“I would urge full transparency and accountability.”
So far the province has found 12 out of 24 colleges have presidents sit on foundation boards.
There’s no mechanism to request or appeal to get more details because the Foundation does not fall under Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
“From a transparency and governance perspective, I would say this is probably not appropriate.” MICHEL MAGNAN CHAIR IN CORPORATE GOVERNANCE, CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY
But they haven’t yet seen a situation where the president leads both organizations.
“We are working to confirm compensation information and to determine next steps,” said Matthews.
McKerlie was made president of Mohawk College and the foundation in 2014 and it was announced at that time he would receive two salaries. No further details have been made public in the subsequent years.
The foundation also had an executive director paid in the range of $120,000 to $160,000 until Trevor Clark left suddenly in January.
McKerlie did not comment on the secret contract. Instead, a joint statement was given by Mohawk Board of Governors chair Joe Parker and Gary Nelson, chair of the foundation’s board of directors.
“Ron is serving as President of the College and Foundation at a transformational time for Mohawk, with significant projects underway for the benefit of both our students and the community,” says the statement.
“Ron has brought strategic leadership to our fundraising initiatives and has secured record government investments and donations to support the largest ever renewal of labs and classrooms at all three of our campuses.”
McKerlie was a longtime public servant who served as Ontario’s deputy minister of open government before becoming Mohawk’s president.
He is also chair of the board of directors at Christian-based charity World Vision Canada and on the board of World Vision International.
The Mohawk Foundation initially refused to provide his salary when The Spectator requested it Wednesday.
His 2015 pay of $91,199.84 was only disclosed Thursday after The Spectator raised the issue with the province and got information about foundation salaries from the Canada Revenue Agency charities listing.
His pay includes a performance bonus of up to 15 per cent and $3,200 in lieu of vacation.
His combined salary is approaching the $401,000 wage cap the college proposed for the president in December.
The province said that was too high and sent college officials back to the drawing board at the end of this past January.
The foundation did not provide McKerlie’s salary for 2016 so it’s unknown if he was given a raise at a time executive compensation was frozen by the province.
There is no way to know what is in his contract. The Broader Public Sector Executive Compensation Act bans perks like club memberships for personal recreation or socializing, season tickets, professional advisory services, access to private health clinics or clothing allowances.
However, the foundation does not have to follow those rules.
The public only has access to the expenses he claims through the college and can’t see what the foundation reimburses.
It says McKerlie does not receive additional taxable benefits but there is no way to confirm that or know if it changes.
It’s not possible to request or appeal for more details because the foundation does not fall under Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
“It’s a legal loophole to exempt themselves from public sector constraints,” said Michel Magnan, chair in corporate governance at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business. “It might be legal, but is it the transparent or ethical thing to do?”
Magnan, who researches compensation management, says the foundation should have no issue being upfront and disclosing the contract if there is nothing in it that goes against the Executive Compensation Act.
“The fact that it’s secret and it’s negotiated behind closed doors defeats the spirit of the law,” he said.
“From a transparency and governance perspective, I would say this is probably not appropriate.”
The Canadian Council for the Advancement in Education can’t name any college or university where the president leads both the school and the foundation.
“I can’t think of any school that is set up that way,” said executive director Mark Hazlett.
Ontario’s NDP party could not find any other broader public sector employers in a similar situation.
Hamilton Health Sciences, St. Joseph’s Healthcare and McMaster University all say their presidents and executive teams are not paid anything by their foundations.
“There is not a ‘second salary’ and the president’s full salary is reported each year on the sunshine list,” said Gord Arbeau, spokesperson for McMaster.
“An important part of the president’s role is to act as an ambassador for McMaster and advance the university’s reputation and standing, including supporting fundraising activities for university priorities.”
A statement from St. Joseph’s says CEO Kevin Smith and president Dr. David Higgins “are always happy to speak and meet with donor groups and the community as part of their job.”
HHS says its leaders “volunteer time” and make “personal donations” to the foundation.
“It’s a key part of the job,” said Hazlett, speaking generally about a president’s role in fundraising.
“There is no doubt that presidents today across the country are far more engaged in the fundraising aspects of the institution than they ever used to be.”