Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson visits the Chilliwack campus of University of the Fraser Valley Feb. 20

Universities don’t need lobbyists, minister says

Andrew Wilkinson lobbied on behalf of SFU in his lawyering days, but as advanced education minister he says he's available

When Andrew Wilkinson started the year in his new job as advanced education minister, he knew B.C. universities hired lobbyists to pitch expansion plans to government.

Wilkinson was one of those lobbyists in his role as a lawyer in private practice, before being elected MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena in 2013.

Under attack for the second day in question period at the B.C. legislature, Wilkinson said Tuesday the practice of universities hiring expensive consultants to speak to the government that funds and regulates them should come to an end.

“It’s been abundantly clear since I took this role that access to my ministry and to me is unlimited for all the institutions,” Wilkinson told the legislature. He said he will advise all B.C. post-secondary institutions that they don’t need lobbyists, but as independent institutions it will be up to them to decide.

On Monday, opposition critics produced records showing Kwantlen Polytechnic University had paid consultant Mark Jiles $177,000 for “relationship building” with the government over several years. Jiles also worked on executive compensation for Kwantlen, where school administrators were paid unreported bonuses that broke government salary caps.

That controversy led to Wilkinson switching cabinet jobs with Surrey-Tynehead MLA Amrik Virk, who was involved in the overpayments as a member of the Kwantlen board. The cabinet shuffle took place quietly in December, after emails surfaced that contradicted Virk’s claims he was not involved in the overpayments.

On Monday, NDP advanced education critic Kathy Corrigan described Jiles’ compensation as “$15,000 a handshake.” On Tuesday, NDP leader John Horgan went further.

“The $177,000 to Mr. Jiles translated into a $50,000 contribution to the B.C. Liberal Party from Mr. Jiles,” Horgan told the legislature. “The minister [Wilkinson] lobbied for Simon Fraser University. Is the minister okay with $50,000 coming from the public back to the B.C. Liberal Party?”

Corrigan said Tuesday a similar arrangement saw lobbyist and “Liberal insider” Don Stickney paid $75,000 by Vancouver Community College.

Wilkinson is a former president of the B.C. Liberal Party who served as deputy minister for economic development and intergovernmental relations with former premier Gordon Campbell.