Apr 212015


Governor General of Canada David Johnston (Postmedia Network)

Governor General of Canada David Johnston (Postmedia Network)

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Long before public outrage over double-pay wobbled the future of the  head of Western University, another academic ushered into Canada an era of perks and payouts — our current Governor General, David Johnston.

Johnston came to Rideau Hall in 2010 as a heralded choice but also with pay cheques and benefits from the University of Waterloo that year and the next totalling $1.67 million. Most of that came from contracts that entitled him to two years of paid leave, Ontario Sunshine Law disclosures show.

Johnston didn’t reply to questions Monday e-mailed to his spokesperson from The Free Press.

But Richard Leblanc, a Toronto lawyer who advises boards and teaches at York and Harvard universities, said Johnston paved the way for other university executives. ​

That should concern taxpayers, students and faculty alike. Though Johnston and others borrowed private-sector perks, they did so without many of the controls that keep in line the leaders of publicly traded companies.

“They need adult supervision,” Leblanc said. “They want the perks without the constraints.”

Other university heads followed Johnston’s lead, cashing out when they left office with fully paid administrative leave. Such provisions are common across Canada, The Free Press has found, not only at the country’s biggest schools but some of its smallest: Two years ago, the principal of tiny Brescia University College in London, Colleen Hanycz, was paid $444,386 — more than the president of the University of Toronto.

But those payouts flew mostly under the radar until Western’s Amit Chakma took in $967,000 in salary and benefits last year.

Chakma blundered by taking it midway through his tenure and in a way that rubs average Joes the wrong way: Double dipping, collecting a regular salary and then getting a second for forgoing an administrative leave.

“He became a lightning rod,” Leblanc said Monday.

A public storm it was after The Free Press reported Chakma’s double pay, a second massive payout in 2009 from Waterloo and his option to double dip again in 2019. Last week, 30 Western senators voted for a non-confidence motion in Chakma and another five to abstain — about 42% of the total.

That’s a crippling blow, said Leblanc, who suspects Western board members are now debating whether to back Chakma or cut bait.

It was Johnston who changed what it meant to be a university president in Canada, said Leblanc: Predecessors focused on how schools functioned; he turned outwards to push for donations, a path also taken by Chakma.

This new cadre face little incentive to spend wisely when they can cut costs by growing class sizes and replacing tenured professors with cheaper contract teachers.

“There’s no pressure for (management) efficiency,” Leblanc said.

The Ontario NDP wants to ban double dipping and cap executive pay, but if the cap is too low, universities may bleed talent, he warned.

The better fix is to mimic what’s done at publicly traded companies:

— Set performance targets that measure not just cost but quality and report them publicly to tax payers.

— Link targets to executive pay.

— Recruit board members with certain skills so they can provide oversight to administration rather than serve as a rubber stamp.

— Make the whole board review the presidential contract rather than a small executive committee.

— Create a code of conduct and whistle-blowing provisions.

— Require independent audits.

“Universities have largely been immune (from controls),” he said. Governments must force changes.

The uproar in London has reached phones at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “We need more accountability,” said Christine Van Geyn, the federation’s Ontario director.



— — —

David Johnston’s pay and pension set a benchmark, observers say:

— Car allowance with no hard cap

— $3,000 for legal, money and tax advice

— $500,000 loan at 3% interest to get a home at a time when the rest of us paid an average of 6.73% for a fixed five-year mortgage.

— A souped-up pension that could pay him as if he had twice as many years of service than he did.



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