02/23/2015 08:11 EST | Updated 04/25/2015 05:59 EDT

NDP says Kwantlen paid Liberal-friendly lobbyist $177,000 to boost school

VICTORIA - Former advanced education minister Amrik Virk was on the board of directors at the Vancouver-area Kwantlen Polytechnic University when it decided to pay a Liberal-connected lobbyist $177,000 to build relationships with his government, say the Opposition New Democrats.

NDP advanced education critic Kathy Corrigan said Monday that documents obtained through Freedom of Information laws show the university hired lobbyist company Bluestone Group. But she argues the money should have been spent on students.

Corrigan said Virk, who was shuffled out of the advanced education file last year, was a Kwantlen board member in 2009 when the university was working with Bluestone Group and its president Mark Jiles.

The NDP documents outline the firm's program to build relations with the Liberal government.

"This involves the development of a relationship-building program with key government decision makers," state the documents. "I will facilitate opportunities for Kwaltlen Polytechnic University to develop important relationships with key individuals within targeted bureaucratic and political circles."

The documents state that Bluestone Group will attempt to build relationships with key Liberals, including former advanced education minister Moira Stilwell, former health minister Kevin Falcon and former finance minister Colin Hansen.

The documents reveal Kwantlen paid Bluestone $5,000 a month from 2009 to 2013.

Corrigan said that while Virk was a member of the Kwantlen board before he was elected as a Liberal MLA in 2013, he was already well-known in Liberal circles. He could have helped Kwantlen build government relationships without hiring a lobbyist, she argued.

"Amrik Virk was the chair of the human resources committee and the vice-chair of the board during that time period," she said. "They were paying Mark Jiles somewhere in the range of $5,000, so why should they be spending taxpayers' money when what they should be doing is picking up the telephone?"

Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson deflected questions about hiring the lobbyist, saying universities are entrepreneurial and can act as autonomous bodies.

The NDP spent much of last fall calling for Virk's removal from cabinet for his involvement with Kwantlen prior to him being elected to the legislature.

A report by high-level government bureaucrat Rob Mingay last June concluded Kwantlen's board, of which Virk was a member, failed to meet government disclosure requirements when it topped up salaries of senior executives.

The NDP also introduced emails in the legislature that were sent by Virk, a former Mountie, from his RCMP email account during his time as a board member. The NDP said the emails show Virk was more involved in the hiring of Kwantlen's former vice-president Anne Lavack than previously believed.

Virk confirmed the emails were legitimate.