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Amrik Virk Shuffled Out Of Ministry Same Day As Critical Kwantlen Report

VICTORIA - Premier Christy Clark has shuffled her cabinet, moving Amrik Virk out of his advanced education portfolio on the same day an updated report revealed that the minister was fully knowledgeable about a compensation package that broke government guidelines.

The premier's office said Thursday that Virk was swapped into leading the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services, replacing Andrew Wilkinson who will take up the Advanced Education post.

The Opposition New Democrats quickly asserted Virk should be "fired, not shuffled," a month after their members brought emails to the legislature's attention that document Virk's role and prompted a second review.

Virk was not an elected official when he sat on the board of Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

"Mr. Virk, in my opinion, was completely dishonest about the level of his involvement in this scheme," said NDP critic David Eby, who was leaked two packages of documents illustrating Virk's involvement.

"He misled the house and then he misled an investigator assigned by his own government. ... That's totally unacceptable conduct."

In a report released in June, deputy minister Rob Mingay found that Virk was vice-chair of the school's board when it failed to meet government disclosure requirements around compensation for two senior executives. Virk stood up in the house and denied knowing about the rules.

But then last month, Eby presented new emails to the legislature that appeared to show Virk clearly knew about a plan to top up the salary of former Kwantlen vice-president Anne Lavack.

The revelations prompted Finance Minister Mike de Jong to request Mingay to examine the new material, determine whether it altered the findings of fact, and issue an update.

"Given the low pay level of a VPA (vice-president academic) at Kwantlen and the difficulty in drawing candidates within the current pay scale, the research leave is one way to 'top' off the pay level. This is a common practice that I learned of and spoke to several Board chairs...," reads one April 11, 2011 email from Virk to five board members.

The email was among a series of board members' disclosures that have now been added to the initial report by Mingay, who said he has subsequently revised his conclusions.

Mingay also added that Lavack was offered a salary of $170,000 annually at its ceiling, $100,000 towards moving expenses, a $20,000 research allowance and that "any amount left over after expenses" would be paid out as a lump-sum taxable signing bonus.

He found the review revealed "certain members" of the then-Board of Governors, some administrative staff and the search consultant knew of the Lavack offer letter and pre-employment contract, Mingay said in a letter released by the provincial government.

"The change to the conclusion only serves to reinforce the importance of the recommendations in my original report," Mingay said in the letter he sent to de Jong on Monday.

Virk was unavailable for comment, but in a statement said it was an honour to take over the portfolio while making no mention of the controversy.

"I look forward to immediately beginning the work of supporting the services necessary for a well-functioning democratic system," Virk said.

— By Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver

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