Mo­hawk pres­i­dent’s pay raised dur­ing wage freeze

On­tario deputy premier dis­mayed at hike, high­lights loop­hole for ex­ec­u­tives who work for foun­da­tions

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JOANNA FRKETICH

Mo­hawk Col­lege pres­i­dent Ron McKer­lie got a pay raise of more than $17,000 from the school’s fundrais­ing foun­da­tion dur­ing the prov­ince’s wage freeze for pub­lic sec­tor ex­ec­u­tives.

“Clearly that is not in the spirit of the com­pen­sa­tion freeze,” Deb Matthews, deputy premier and min­is­ter of ad­vanced ed­u­ca­tion and skills de­vel­op­ment, said Fri­day.

Mo­hawk Col­lege ac­knowl­edged Fri­day that McKer­lie re­ceived a 19 per cent pay raise in 2016, bring­ing his sec­ond salary as head of the foun­da­tion to $108, 694.08.

“Fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful year of fundrais­ing, the foun­da­tion board of di­rec­tors gave Ron a raise in April,” the col­lege said in a state­ment.

His se­cret con­tract and hid­den ex­penses with the Mo­hawk Col­lege Foun­da­tion were also made pub­lic after The Spec­ta­tor re­vealed an ac­count­abil­ity loop­hole cre­ated by nam­ing him pres­i­dent of both the school and the fundrais­ing en­tity.

The ar­range­ment, which gives McKer­lie a com­bined salary of roughly $369,000, doesn’t break any On­tario rules but the prov­ince is ques­tion­ing the in­tegrity of the ar­range­ment.

“There cer­tainly is the rule of com­mon sense,” Matthews told The Spec­ta­tor. “There is the rule that we ex­pect peo­ple in the broader pub­lic sec­tor to ac­tu­ally re­spect the di­rec­tion given by gov­ern­ment.”

The prov­ince con­tin­ues to in­ves­ti­gate whether McKer­lie is the only one in On­tario to head both a col­lege and its foun­da­tion with sep­a­rate

con­tracts and pay.

Ali Ghi­assi, who is now the chief of staff to On­tario’s min­is­ter of fi­nance, drew up the ar­range­ment when he was Mo­hawk’s vice-pres­i­dent and gen­eral coun­sel.

“These de­ci­sions were made by the Mo­hawk Foun­da­tion’s Board of Di­rec­tors,” Ghi­assi said in an email. “In my for­mer role as Vice Pres­i­dent, Gen­eral Coun­sel for Mo­hawk, I drafted the le­gal con­tract pur­suant to the Di­rec­tion of the Board.”

The foun­da­tion is ex­empt from the Broader Pub­lic Sec­tor Ex­ec­u­tive Com­pen­sa­tion Act and free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quests. As a re­sult, its con­tract with McKer­lie does not have to abide by pro­vin­cial rules such as the wage freeze or pub­lic dis­clo­sure of con­tracts, salary and ex­penses.

“I was shocked,” said NDP leader and Hamil­ton Cen­tre MPP An­drea Hor­wath. “It’s a lack of trans­parency. It’s just not ac­cept­able. The gov­ern­ment sets out pa­ram­e­ters. They find a loop­hole and a way around that.”

McKer­lie was a long­time pub­lic ser­vant who served as On­tario’s deputy min­is­ter of open gov­ern­ment be­fore be­com­ing Mo­hawk’s pres­i­dent in 2014.

He is also chair of the board of di­rec­tors at Chris­tian-based char­ity World Vi­sion Canada and on the board of World Vi­sion In­ter­na­tional.

“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,” a joint state­ment from the foun­da­tion and col­lege said last week.

The se­cret con­tract dated May 20, 2014 sets out pay of $80,000 a year plus a per­for­mance bonus of up to 15 per cent for a max­i­mum salary of $92,000 be­fore the 2016 raise.

McKer­lie was paid $91,199.84 in 2015.

The foun­da­tion also had an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor paid in the range of $120,000 to $160,000 un­til Trevor Clark left sud­denly in Jan­uary.

In ad­di­tion, the foun­da­tion con­tract gives McKer­lie an­other four per cent of his base salary in lieu of paid va­ca­tion. It worked out to $3,200 a year be­fore the raise.

Un­der his col­lege con­tract, McKer­lie gets 23 days of va­ca­tion as of May 2016 with an ad­di­tional day added every year up to 30 days. On top of that, he gets paid days off be­tween Christ­mas and New Year’s.

He claimed $776.10 worth of ex­penses to the foun­da­tion from Sept 2014 to Jan­uary 2017.

His ex­penses ranged from $1.75 in July 2016 for park­ing in Burling­ton to $85.12 for a meal at Mile­stones. About 91 per cent of the ex­penses were meals with McKer­lie eat­ing most fre­quently at The Aberdeen Tav­ern, a restau­rant on Aberdeen Av­enue near Dun­durn Street South. The re­main­ing ex­penses were all park­ing re­ceipts.

Hor­wath called on the gov­ern­ing pro­vin­cial Lib­er­als to find a way to make the de­tails pub­lic when an ex­ec­u­tive also works for the foun­da­tion.

“Peo­ple de­serve to know,” she said. “I would hope the gov­ern­ment takes a hard look at these loop­holes.”

The co-founder of Democ­racy Watch says the gov­ern­ment ac­count­abil­ity ad­vo­cacy group iden­ti­fied this vul­ner­a­bil­ity in pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion a decade ago and has been call­ing for it to be ad­dressed every since.

“It’s a sys­temic prob­lem and the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s fault re­ally,” Duff Conacher said. “They should have long ago re­quired every in­sti­tu­tion that re­ceives pub­lic money or serves a pub­lic func­tion to be cov­ered by the ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion law and all the other pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity laws.”

Matthews said she doesn’t plan at this time to cre­ate new rules to make sure ex­ec­u­tives can’t get around the Broader Pub­lic Sec­tor Ex­ec­u­tive Com­pen­sa­tion Act.

“I trust that they are go­ing to do the right thing,” Matthews told The Spec­ta­tor. “I can tell you that I’m watch­ing it closely.”

She went on to say: “I fully ex­pect the lead­ers in the broader pub­lic sec­tor to ad­here to both the spirit and the let­ter of the law.”

Read about other pub­lic sec­tor ex­ec­u­tives with hid­den ex­penses through foun­da­tions in Tues­day’s Spec­ta­tor.

“Clearly that is not in the spirit of the com­pen­sa­tion freeze” DEPUTY PREMIER DEB MATTHEWS MIN­IS­TER OF AD­VANCED ED­U­CA­TION AND SKILLS DE­VEL­OP­MENT

Ron McKer­lie’s pay raised by $17,000 while ex­ec­u­tive salaries were frozen in On­tario.

Deb Matthews: “Watch­ing it closely.”

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