UCP appointees to Alberta university boards have donated more than $72K to the UCP since 2017

Government appointees to the Board of Governors at Alberta’s universities have donated more than $72,000 to the ruling United Conservative Party since the party’s inception, according to an exclusive Progress Report analysis.

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Combined, the boards at the University of Alberta and Athabasca University have donated two-thirds of the $72,023 in contributions to the UCP from university BoG appointees. The generosity of these appointees hasn’t helped much however with both universities facing serious strife in its relationship with the government. 

Under the Post-Secondary Learning Act, the Lieutenant Governor appoints a board chair and as many members of the public to a Board of Governors as the government likes on behalf of the government. 

Additionally, the minister appoints representatives from academic staff, non-academic staff, undergraduate and graduate students, the senate and alumni upon the nomination of their respective associations. The nominated appointees were excluded from our analysis.

Under the act, these boards have sweeping powers to enact bylaws impacting the “management, government and control of the university buildings and land,” from establishing programs of study to managing traffic and parking. It is a volunteer position and unpaid. 

All public universities, colleges and polytechnics in the province have government-appointed Boards of Governors except for six Independent Academic Institutions — St. Mary’s University, Burman University, Concordia University of Edmonton, the King’s University, Ambrose University and MaKami College. 

While a publicly appointed Board of Governors adds a layer of accountability to post-secondary institutions’ governance, it also provides the opportunity for governments to reward their loyalists. 

The Progress Report has gone through public appointees from each of the province’s seven universities. We looked at the publicly appointed board members’ donation histories dating back to 2017 — the year the UCP was formed. Our analysis includes donations made that year to the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties, because they were in the process of merging. 

All but the University of Lethbridge have at least one appointee who has donated money to the UCP. The largest source of donors was the University of Alberta, with $25,210 donated by appointees, which was also the post-secondary institution hit hardest by government cuts from 2019 to 2022. 

Without directly criticizing the UCP’s partisan appointments to the board, Association of Academic Staff at the University of Alberta president Gordon Swaters told the Progress Report that the university’s BoG has shown a “concerted lack of respect” towards faculty and non-academic staff over the past few years by failing to “respect the principles of collegial governance at the university.”

“Academic staff are fed up with sham consultation on key decisions and have lost trust in executive leadership,” Swaters said. 

The Board of Governors whose members have made the second-highest amount of donations to the UCP is Athabasca University, with $22,725. 

Last year, the government attempted to force 65 per cent of the “near-virtual” university’s staff relocate to the town of less than 3,000 people it’s named after within two years. 

After purging four board members and replacing with seven new ones, the government signed an investment management agreement with the university under the condition that half of its executives and 25 additional staff move to Athabasca.

Bob Barnetson, an Edmonton-based labour studies professor at Athabasca, said it’s unsurprising that the Board of Governors is stacked with UCP loyalists. 

Governments appoint all and select most BoG members. The selection process is, as far as I know, opaque,” he told The Progress Report. 

Barnetson cautioned that he’s unconvinced partisan appointments make a discernible difference on the board’s policies, given the government’s inherently asymmetrical relationship with the BoG. 

“BoGs are de facto creatures of government and rarely show independence regardless of the political stripe of their members,” he said. 

Below are the six universities with UCP donors on their boards, ranked by the amount of money donated to the ruling party. 

University of Alberta ($25,210)

Kate Chisholm ($2,000)

Kate Chisholm, an executive at Capitol Power and U of A law school graduate, has been the chair of the U of A Board of Governors chair since 2019 — the same year she gave $2,000 to the UCP. She was re-appointed for another three-year term starting in August 2022.

Daniel Eggert ($10,780)

A former U of A senator and Red Tape Reduction panel appointee, Daniel Eggert was appointed as a public member of the U of A Board of Governors in 2019 — the same year he donated $750 to the UCP. A year earlier, he donated a combined $3,438.90 to the UCP and three Edmonton candidates. 

In 2020, Eggert, who’s a U of A alumnus, gave $2,400 to the UCP, and in 2021, donated $4,191.25 to the party. 

Thomas Ross ($11,550)

Tom Ross was appointed to the U of A BoG in 2019 and re-appointed in August 2022. He was also appointed to the King’s Counsel in 2020. The Alberta Law Society directory refers to a T. W. R. Ross, KC who works at McLennan-Ross.

Thomas William Ross is listed in the Elections Alberta financial disclosures database as having donated $4,300 to the UCP in 2023 and $3,750 the year prior.

In 2019, the year of his BoG appointment, and the year before his King’s Counsel designation, he gave $2,000 to the UCP. 

He also donated $1,500 to Jason Kenney’s UCP leadership bid in 2017.

Paul Whittaker ($880)

The former head of Alberta Forest Products Association and a deputy minister under the premierships of Ed Stelmach and Allison Redford, Paul Whittaker was appointed to the BoG in 2020 and had his term renewed in March 2023. 

In 2019, Paul Daine Whittaker of Edmonton is listed as having donated $562.50 to the UCP.

A year earlier, he donated $316.55 to the party.. 

Athabasca University ($22,725)

Leo de Bever ($3,000)

Leo De Bever served as the CEO of AIMCo from 2008 to 2014, and since 2015 has been a senior fellow at the CD Howe Institute. He was appointed in October 2022.

De Bever made a $3,000 donation to the UCP in 2019. 

Dan Leckelt ($15,450)

Owner of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Spruce Grove Saints and Stony Plain Eagles junior hockey teams, Dan Leckelt got his MBA from Athabasca University in 2015. He was appointed to the board in October 2022, as part of the UCP’s aforementioned shakeup.

Leckelt donated $4,300 — the maximum legal donation — to the UCP this year. 

He gave $1,150 to the ruling party last year, $4,000 in 2020 and $4,000 in 2019

In 2018, Leckelt contributed $1,000 to the Edmonton-Glenora UCP constituency association, whose candidate Marjorie Newman was soundly defeated by NDP incumbent Sarah Hoffman. Leckelt donated $1,000 to the upstart UCP in 2017. 

Lori Van Rooijen ($2,000)

Also appointed during the October 2022 shakeup of Athabasca’s BoG, Lori Van Rooijen is a consultant who also chairs the board of the Glenbow Museum and previously served as the VP engagement at Alberta University of the Arts. Van Rooijen gave $2,000 to the UCP in 2020.

Larry (Ilario) Spagnolo ($2,275)

An executive at a company that makes cloud computing software for the oil and gas industry, Sturgeon County resident Larry Spagnolo was originally appointed to the BoG in August 2019 and appointed for a second term in October 2022.

In the first three quarters of this year, he’s donated $375 to the UCP. In 2020, he contributed $1,000 and in 2019, he gave $900. 

University of Calgary ($13,691)

Aleem Dhanani ($6,113)

Developer Aleem Dhanani was appointed to the University of Calgary BoG in September 2022.

In 2021, he donated $150 to the UCP constituency association of Calgary-Bow, the riding represented by then-advanced education minister Demetrios Nicolaides, as well as another $150 to the party. 

Dhanani donated $2,312.50 to the UCP in 2019 and $2,175 in 2018

He donated $375 to the PCs in 2017, when Jason Kenney was elected leader on a platform of merging the party with the Wildrose to create the UCP. 

John Weissenberger ($788)

John Weissenberger is the Vice-President of Technical Science and External Innovation at Alberta Energy Regulator and an adjunct professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the U of A. He was appointed to the U of C BoG in December 2020. 

In the first three quarters of 2023, Weissenberger donated $362.50 to the UCP, and gave $425 to Kenney’s PC leadership campaign in 2017. Weissenberger is also a former campaign manager of Jason Kenney. 

Gary Zhang ($5,350)

The owner of a geographical information systems business, who got his Master of Science degree at U of C, Gary Zhang was appointed in September 2022, a year after he contributed $750 to the UCP. 

Zhang donated $2,300 to the party in 2019 and again in 2020.

David Price ($1,440)

A lawyer at Stikeman Elliott, David Price is a UCP bigshot, having chaired the party’s Leadership Race Committee in 2022. 

From 2017 to 2018, he was a member of the party’s interim bylaw and policy committee, and served as the secretary of the Wildrose board from 2014 to 2017. Prior to his March 2023 appointment to the board, he was a U of C senator. 

This year, he’s given $375 to the UCP and contributed $300 to the party last year. In 2018, Price donated $765 to the UCP. 

Grant MacEwan University ($4,784)

Adam Guiney ($3,459)

Adam Guiney was first appointed to the board in 2019 and was appointed for another term in August 2022. He is the general manager of an industrial services company, the former VP of the Edmonton Petroleum Club Board of Governors, and a McEwan alumnus. 

He first donated to the UCP in 2020, with a $1,250 contribution. He donated $1,041 in 2021, $558 in 2022 and $700 in 2023.

Julian Martin ($1,325)

A U of A history professor from 1990 to 2008, Julian Martin was also a member of the provincial Land Compensation Board & the Surface Rights Board from 2006 to 2009, and from 2008 to 2014 worked for the federal Conservatives. He was appointed to the board in June 2023.

In 2017, Martin donated $350 to the Wildrose Party and then once it merged with the PCs gave $575 to the UCP. He donated an additional $400 to the party in 2018.

Mount Royal University ($4,000)

Alex Pourbaix ($4,000)

The sole UCP donor on Mount Royal’s board is also its chair.

Alex Pourbaix has served as president and CEO of Cenovus since 2017, and before that served in various executive roles at TransCanada Corporation, as well as the chair of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers BoG. 

In 2019, the year he was first appointed to chair Mount Royal’s BoG, he gave $4,000 to the UCP. His chairmanship was renewed in August 2022.

Alberta University of the Arts ($1,613)

Carol Ryder ($375)

Carol Ryder, who helped establish the Calgary Arts Society, was re-appointed to chair the Alberta University of the Arts’ BoG for a one-year term in February 2023. She’s served in that role since 2014 — four years before the former Alberta College of Art and Design was designated a university and renamed. 

In 2023, Ryder, the co-owner of a family real estate and property management company, donated $375 to the UCP, but contributed a combined $2,375 to the NDP in 2018 and 2019. 

Before the NDP came to power, Ryder was a consistent PC donor. The year she was first appointed chair of the BoG, she donated $600 to Jim Prentice’s victorious leadership campaign 

Evan Legate ($1,238)

A lobbyist with Gateway Public Affairs and executive director of the Research Diversification Council, Evan Legate was appointed to the BoG in March 2023. He donated a combined $456.25 to the UCP in 2019, $500 in 2020 and $281.25 in 2023.

On September 8, six months after his appointment to the BoG, Legate registered to lobby the Ministry of Advanced Education on behalf of the Research Diversification Council.