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Manitoba’s education minister says he has no idea what led to Red River College to pay its former president $525,000 in salary and benefits during her final 14 months on the job.

Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum.


Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum.

Education & Advanced Learning Minister James Allum declined to say what he thinks about Stephanie Forsyth earning $280,000 during the 2013-14 fiscal year and then $245,000 for two months work at the beginning of the 2014-15 fiscal year, when she and the college parted ways by mutual agreement.

Forsyth left Red River while the college was reviewing her presidency. A subsequent provincial review concluded Forsyth made questionable spending decisions, filed questionable personal expenses and embarked on a firing spree that saw her terminate or force out 16 senior executives – including some who replaced previously departed staff – at a cumulative cost of $3.7 million.

Winnipeg police are also investigating how marble from the college’s culinary arts school wound up in Forsyth’s former Wellington Crescent home.

Allum said it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment on the compensation paid to Forsyth, who now resides in British Columbia. He said he played no role in any negotiations or discussions between Red River College and its former president, surmising they involved contractual obligations.

"You’re asking me to comment on things I’m not responsible for or privy to," the minister said in an interview.

"She was an employee of Red River and that’s between her and Red River College. The board is there to decide the compensation. We don’t have anything to do with that."

College officials have declined to discuss the compensation.

Stephanie Forsyth, ex-president and CEO of  Red River College.


Stephanie Forsyth, ex-president and CEO of Red River College.

Allum said his government was responsible for ensuring Red River reviewed Forsyth’s presidency and for undertaking its own review, which resulted in 45 recommendations to improve financial accountability and human-resources practices at Red River College.

"We responded immediately to the concerns and followed up on our obligations to ensure Manitobans that Red River, which has a good reputation across the country, continues to have a good reputation," he said.

He dismissed the idea that public confidence in governance gets undermined by non-disclosure agreements that prevent officials from discussing circumstances surrounding departures by senior executives.

"We made the review public," Allum said. "The test of public disclosure has been met."

The opposition Progressive Conservatives say the money paid to Forsyth constitutes reckless spending by the province – and accused the NDP government of hiding the circumstances behind the compensation.

"These are public accounts and these are public funds," said Lac du Bonnet MLA Wayne Ewasko, the Tory education and advanced-learning critic.

Ewasko said it’s implausible Allum had no inkling what Red River College’s board was doing when it engaged in compensation talks with Forsyth in the midst of a financial scandal.

"He should know exactly what’s going on and I’m sure he does," said Ewasko, adding Allum once chaired the council on post-secondary education. "Who knows what else is going to be unveiled in the police investigation?"

Liberal leader Rana Bokhari pledged if she’s elected premier, her ministers will be on top of their portfolios and provide oversight.

"Problems would not be hidden from the public to avoid embarrassment, because that is what transparency is all about," Bokhari said in a statement.

Manitobans go to the polls on April 19.