Mount Allison legal fees revealed through right to information process

(April 30, 2015-Sackville, NB.) Recent right to information (RTI) requests made by the Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations (FNBFA) have revealed Mount Allison University spending on legal fees in the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 fiscal years.

The University reports that it paid $31,878 to lawyers in 2012-2013. Payments to lawyers in 2013-2014 totalled $455,585.

“While the administration has declined to name the firms that received the payments or to identify the services provided, the reporting period of 2013-2014 includes the collective bargaining process which began in the summer of 2013 and extended into the strike in the winter of 2014,” said Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) President Loralea Michaelis.

In 2013, the University took the unusual step of hiring an external lawyer to act as its Chief Negotiator. The lawyer, Brian Johnston, QC, is a Halifax-based partner with the law firm Stewart McKelvey. Stewart McKelvey is also the firm that Mount Allison uses for grievance handling.

Mount Allison records indicate that Brian Johnston served on the Mount Allison Board of Regents from 1991 to 2006. Records also provided to the FNBFA indicate that he served as Vice-Chair of the Board in 2004 and Chair of the Board in 2005 and 2006.

The current chair of the Mount Allison Board of Regents is James Dickson, QC, also a Halifax-based partner with the law firm Stewart McKelvey. He has served on the Board since 2007, holding the position of Vice-Chair in 2012 and 2013. Mount Allison records also indicate that he served from 2009 to 2013 on the Board of Regent’s Human Resources Committee.

“This information raises a lot of questions about how the University is being managed,” said MAFA President-elect Andrew Irwin. “For example, how can the administration make responsible spending decisions about legal fees if it is retaining a law firm with which it has such close ties?” he asked.

“We are told that times are tough and money is tight, so it is surprising to discover that student tuition dollars and the grant from the government are being spent in this way,” said Michaelis. “$455,000 is a lot of money for legal services in just one year. And we still don’t have the complete picture,” she added.

The tally for payments made on legal services for 2014-2015 is not yet available but this reporting period would include the interest arbitration which continued through the spring, summer, and fall of 2014. There were also several grievance arbitrations held in the fall of 2014 and winter of 2015.

The interest arbitration process was aimed at resolving issues outstanding from the 2014 strike and establishing new collective agreements between Mount Allison University and its faculty and librarians.

The FNBFA also asked for information on any payments made in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 to communications, public relations, and crisis management firms. The University reports that it spent $0 for these services in 2012-2013. For 2013-2014, the University declined to provide any information, claiming that disclosure of this information “might invade the privacy or affect the interests of a third party.”

A right to information request made of the University of New Brunswick, filed by the Fredericton newspaper The Daily Gleaner (and granted upon successful appeal to the NB Privacy Commissioner), revealed that the UNB administration paid $113,000 in 2014 to a communications firm for media services related to the faculty strike (The Daily Gleaner, March 5, 2015).

The Mount Allison Faculty Association represents 148 full-time faculty and librarians and 40 part-time faculty.

For further information contact the MAFA office at 506-364-2206 or email mafa@mta.ca. Original documents are available upon request.