Former senior political staffers among new crop of appointees to university boards who have given $15K to the UCP

The UCP have appointed four people who have collectively donated more than $15,000 to the UCP to university boards of governors, including Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney’s former chief of staff and the party’s former executive director, bringing the total of UCP donations from its university board appointees to nearly $92,000. 

Through a June 5 order in council, the government made six appointments to the board at the University of Alberta, two appointments to the board at Grant MacEwan University and one at the University of Calgary. 

Of these appointments, three at the U of A and one at MacEwan are UCP donors, who have given a combined $15,077 to the governing party. 

Under the Post-Secondary Learning Act, the government can appoint as many members of the public as it likes to a post-secondary institution’s Board of Governors for three-year terms. The minister also appoints representatives from academic staff, non-academic staff, undergraduate and graduate students, the senate and alumni upon the nomination of their respective associations.

None of the sitting public board members at U of A or MacEwan’s terms are near expiration, meaning the government is expanding the size of their boards—from 19 to 25 at the U of A and from 16 to 18 at MacEwan.

The 31 per cent enlargement of the board at U of A, and resulting dilution of the existing members’ voting power, comes as members are set to vote on whether president Bill Flanagan, who called Edmonton cops to campus to violently dismantle a pro-Palestine encampment on May 11, can serve a second term. The meeting, which happens on June 14, will also be deciding on whether or not to call a 3rd party inquiry into the U of A administration’s decision to violently clear the non-violent protest encampment.

Sitting on a post-secondary board is an unpaid position, but boards collectively possess far-reaching powers under the act to implement bylaws affecting the “management, government and control of the university buildings and land.”

In November 2023, the Progress Report reported that all of Alberta’s universities, with the exception of University of Lethbridge, had board appointees who donated a combined $72,083 to the UCP since the party’s inception, with two-thirds of those funds coming from appointees to the U of A and Athabasca University.

In the first three months of 2024, the government appointed people who have donated a combined $4,758 to the boards at U of L, the U of C and U of A. 

The most recent appointments bring the total figure of UCP donations from people the UCP has appointed to university boards to $91,918.

Excluding four UCP donor board members who have been replaced after their terms expired—including Daniel Eggert at U of A, Carol Ryder at the Alberta University of the Arts and John Weissenberger at the University of Calgary, as well as Mount Royal University board chair Alex Pourbaix, who left before his term would have expired next year—the figure is a still-increased $76,055. 

Premier Danielle Smith with Ryan Hastman. Photo via Facebook. 

June 6 Appointees

Ryan Hastman ($6,153)

From April 2019 to September 2020, Ryan Hastman served as Rajan Sawhney’s chief of staff when she was minister of community and social services. He was Sawhney’s chief of staff again from July 2021 to October 2022, when she was minister of transportation.

In between, he served as the deputy executive director of the UCP caucus. 

Hastman ran for the federal Conservatives in Edmonton-Strathcona in 2011, losing to the NDP’s Linda Duncan. He ran for the Conservative nomination for Edmonton-St. Albert in 2014, losing to Michael Cooper. 

He also worked as a special assistant to Guy Giorno, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, from December 2008 to April 2009, and before that as a spokesperson for Public Safety Canada under ministers Stockwell Day and Peter Van Loan. 

Hastman was appointed to the board at U of A, where he was previously employed from December 2012 to March 2019.

Readers might recognize him as the former co-host and David Cournoyer’s conservative foil on the Daveberta podcast. 

Given his deep ties to the conservative movement, it’s unsurprising that Hastman has donated a considerable sum to the UCP since 2018. 

He gave the party $400 in 2022 and $2,025 in 2021, including a small donation to the Calgary-North East constituency association, the riding Sawhney represented until last year. In 2020, Hastman donated $3,100 to the UCP. In 2019, he provided $340 to party coffers, including a donation to the Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills constituency association, and in 2018 gave $288 to the constituency association in St. Albert.

Brittany Baltimore ($5,174)

Brittany Baltimore served as the UCP’s deputy director from April to December 2020, and then as the party’s executive director from December 2020 to November 2021.

From May 2019 to April 2020, Baltimore was press secretary to the Ministry of Labour and Immigration under then-minister Jason Copping. 

In 2021, Baltimore donated a total of $2,123.75 to the party, and its Lethbridge East, Strathcona-Sherwood Park and West Yellowhead constituency associations. 

She donated $3,050 to the UCP in 2020.

Baltimore was appointed to the MacEwan board on June 6.

Darren Durstling ($1,875)

Darren Durstling is a landlord who owns a real estate investment firm and is a U of A alumnus, having graduated in 1989. 

In 2023, Durstling donated $1,875 to the UCP. He was appointed to the U of A board.

Robert Seidel ($1,875)

Robert Seidel is a corporate lawyer who used to chair Alberta Innovates Health Solution, a Crown corporation that merged with three other entities in 2010 to form Alberta Innovates, which subsidizes private-sector research. 

He’s a former member of the MacEwan Board of Governors, serving from 2002 to 2008, and co-chaired the fundraising campaign to build the school’s new School of Business, which is scheduled for completion in 2027.

Seidel also served as a member of Jim Prentice’s transition team in 2014 after he won the leadership of the PCs. 

Seidel was appointed to the board at U of A, where he got his law degree in 1983. Last year, he donated $1,875 to the UCP. 

Early 2024 Appointees

Venkata Vemana ($3,033)

On March 27, engineer Venkata Vemana, who worked on the long-delayed Edmonton Valley Line LRT, was appointed to the U of A board. 

Vemana donated $1,000 to UCP coffers in 2023 and $684 the year prior

In 2021, he donated $511 to the UCP. From 2019 to 2021, he donated $838 to the Calgary-Edgemont UCP constituency association, the riding represented by UCP MLA Prasad Panda until Panda was defeated by the NDP’s Julia Hayter in 2023. 

William (Bill) Chapman ($878)

On Jan. 24, Coaldale town councillor William Chapman became the first UCP donor appointed to the U of L Board of Governors. 

From 2004 to 2017, Chapman was the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta’s regional director for Lethbridge, Cardston and Taber.

Chapman previously served on the U of L board as a student member from 1996 to 1999 when he was working on his undergraduate degree in political science.

Last year, he gave $288 to the UCP and provided a $253 donation in 2021. In 2020, he gave $338 to the UCP constituency association for Taber-Warner, the riding represented by backbench MLA Grant Hunter.

Arun Sood ($550)

Arun Sood, a technology engineer for Suncor, was appointed U o fC’s board on Feb. 28. She obtained her master’s degree in chemical engineering at UofC before earning her PhD from Dalhousie University in Halifax.

In 2018, Sood donated $550 to the Calgary-North East UCP constituency association, whose candidate was Rajan Sawhney, who went on to win the seat and is now minister of advanced education.