POLITICS

Government review finds questionable expenses at Manitoba college

01/21/2015 11:37 EST | Updated 03/23/2015 05:59 EDT
WINNIPEG - A Manitoba government review has found questionable expenses at Red River College in Winnipeg that include thousands of dollars in overseas trips and restaurant meals.

The review was done after revelations that then-college president Stephanie Forsyth had filed expense claims for golf shoes, ballet tickets and other items.

It found that Forsyth and two other staff visited France — at a cost of more than $11,500 — in an effort to have the college join a European culinary association.

The review says Red River College is the only Canadian member of the institution and it's not clear why membership and the trip were deemed necessary.

The report also says college officials expensed more than $2,200 for restaurant meals on three consecutive nights when they were interviewing candidates for an executive position.

The government review makes 45 recommendations to tighten oversight over spending, and the college says it will implement all of them.

Forsyth moved out of the province after stepping down last year and could not be reached immediately for comment.

The college also looked into accusations from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation that Forsyth used surplus marble from a college construction project for counters in her home. That review has been forwarded to the Winnipeg Police Service, college spokesman Conor Lloyd said Wednesday.

The province said it demands accountability from public bodies.

"Government expects individuals entrusted with public funds to be responsible stewards of those funds. Any misuse of those resources constitutes a betrayal of the public trust," Education and Advanced Learning Minister Peter Bjornson said in a written statement Wednesday.

The review outlines several instances where Forsyth, who resigned last year citing unspecified personal reasons, was reimbursed for expenses that were either questionable or not documented. It also found she had been given about $10,000 for discretionary purchases, but continued to file and be reimbursed for expense claims for such items.

"Our review noted several miscellaneous discretionary types of expenses were included in the president’s expense claims over and above the ... allowance provided, totalling just over $1,100 for items such as books, electronic chargers/phone accessories, a car GPS and other miscellaneous items; and $205 for golf shoes (subsequently repaid by the president)."

Forsyth claimed $14,047 between September 2010 and April 2014 for meals and entertainment, and often contravened college policy by not providing a list of guests or topics discussed to justify the expense, the review says.

"Of the 88 claims reviewed, 52 claims included meals. Of those 52 claims, 42 included at least one meal where a complete list of attendees or detailed topic discussed during the meal was not provided."

The report also notes a high turnover rate among executives and other non-union staff. In the five years prior to Forsyth's term, there was one severance package given to a high-ranking worker. During Forsyth's four-year term, eight packages were given out, totalling $639,142.

"The board chair and vice-chair recalled the president explaining the terminations on the basis of: staff’s management style, various personality conflicts with the president or with other vice-presidents, or staff members having challenges with their respective workloads."