Alberta Conservative senator-in-waiting Doug Black claimed tens of thousands of dollars in expenses in an 18-month period, including first-class flights and luxury hotels, documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation reveal.
They show that Black expensed more than $28,000 between February 2011 and August 2012.
The previous board chair, Jack Perraton, claimed a total of $434.01 in three and a half years.
Black claimed several first-class flights to Toronto, Vancouver and other cities. He also claimed nearly $1,300 for a two-night stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston and the same amount for two nights at Toronto’s Ritz Carleton.
The University of Calgary reimbursed Black for these expenses, and others, even though its policy only allows economy flights and standard rooms, Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said.
“There are some pretty lavish expenses there that probably should not have gone through,” Hennig said Tuesday.
“I mean you got to think some kid at the U of C whose tuition is helping pay for some of this is probably scrambling to get together $500 for his rent this month, let alone staying at a $500 a night hotel.”.
Black is out of the country and could not be reached for comment. He outpolled all other candidates in this year’s provincial senate race, held in conjunction with Alberta’s election. That means he is first in line to replace Alberta Senator Joyce Fairbairn, who is suffering from dementia.
In response to requests for an interview with University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon, the university instead offered a brief telephone interview with Jonathan Gebert, its vice president of finance.
But in response to repeated questions about how Black was allowed to apparently breach university expense-claim policy, Gebert repeatedly stated that the university had improved its financial controls over hospitality and transportation expenses as part of its “continuous improvement program.”
Hennig questions why the university allowed Black to claim first-class airfare and hotels to attend speeches by current federal minister John Baird in Vancouver and former federal minister Jim Prentice in Toronto. He also questions why Black was allowed to claim nearly $3,000 for first-class airfare to Ottawa to attend the ceremony at which former governor general Michaelle Jean was inducted as chancellor of the University of Ottawa.
“Doug Black is the chairman of the Michaelle Jean foundation,” Hennig said. “So that seems like it would have been foundation business, not U of C business. So there are a lot of questionable ones or lack of documentation when it comes to why he had to fly around the country so much.”
The documents also show the university, in December last year, paid half the fare for a return flight for Black from Miami to Calgary to attend a board of governors meeting. Hennig questions this claim because Black spent a week in Calgary before returning to Miami.
While in Calgary, Black often hired personal limousines to attend university functions or ferry him to the airport, rather than driving himself. On Sept. 23 last year, Black hired a limo to take him to, and from, the Ranchmen’s Club in Calgary for a board of governors’ dinner before a board meeting. He expensed the board’s dinner – more than $2,000 – plus $260 for the limo ride.
In a news release Tuesday, the university claimed Black’s improper expense claims were uncovered by a quarterly review of the chairman’s expenses in June. It found the “error” made by Black in claiming first-class flights and Black “promptly” cut the university a cheque for nearly $5,400.
“Concurrently, the University of Calgary received a request under the FOIP Act” from Hennig and discovered a second error made by Black in claiming liquor, for which the chairman wrote another cheque for $56.
“I don’t believe that explanation,” Hennig said. “It seems like too much of a coincidence that the university only discovered the problems at the exact same time that they received my FOIP request.