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RRC boss questions tipster's motivation

President says changes at college may have led to expense probe

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Live and learn.

And move on.

Those were the sentiments of Red River College president Stephanie Forsyth on Friday as one of her worst weeks came to an end.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation knocked the wind out of Forsyth Wednesday when it publicly released several of her expense claims, which it had obtained through a freedom-of-information request. On Thursday, Forsyth said she'd pay the college back for some of her claims, including a $205 pair of golf shoes for which she billed the college in 2011.

"It's been an interesting week for sure," she said. "I was disappointed to hear the comments and statements being made. They're not quite accurate in my mind, obviously, but we're learning from that. Perception is often reality."

Forsyth spoke from Ottawa, where she was attending a meeting of the Association of Community Colleges.

She said because of the furor unleashed by the CTF, the college's board is taking a closer look at her expenses. It's already been announced that as of April 1, her expense claims will be posted on the college's website "in the interests of full transparency."

"If there are ways we can be doing it better and stronger, we're going to be doing that," she said.

What might be more concerning to Forsyth is that someone at the college who had inside knowledge of the expenses tipped off Colin Craig, the CTF's prairie director.

"I don't know how this has all come out," Forsyth said. "What I do know is that we're making fairly significant changes in the college and change is never easy for folks."

That change includes a greater focus on international education, working more with industry and business to meet the NDP government's push to get 75,000 skilled workers in the province by 2020 and new capital campaigns for projects such as the college's new Skilled Trades and Technology Centre, she said.

"These are significant changes and they are not always easy for people to accept."

She also said under her contract, she is allowed 50 per cent of vehicle expenses for her 2007 BMW and 100 per cent of insurance costs.

"Some people in a job like mine are given a car for work," she said.

Craig chided Forsyth on her expenses, including a $134 bag she bought at the Vancouver airport, car washes, insurance, winter tires and a GPS device.

She said she bought the GPS to more easily find her way around the city when she was first hired in 2010.

She said she purchased the golf shoes so she would have proper footwear. Because of a bad ankle, she also needs orthotic shoes.

"Golf is part of doing business in Manitoba. When I went to a couple of games for fundraising activities in track shoes, one course told me track shoes weren't permissible," she said.

Forsyth's expense total from September 2010 to January 2013 was $78,842.21.

She also said the luggage bag she bought in Vancouver was purchased to replace one damaged in transit.

"Airlines today don't replace or take responsibilty for items they destroy, so I had to buy something on the fly," she said.

The bag she bought is now the property of the college.

Red River has more than 30,000 full- and part-time students at its Notre Dame Avenue and downtown campuses.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2013 A4

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