Former Alberta minister takes shots at critics of University of Calgary president

CALGARY – Former Alberta finance minister Jim Dinning has come out swinging against critics of a University of Calgary president who’s been under fire over concerns about corporate influence.

Dinning, who was university chancellor from 2010 to 2014, wrote an opinion piece for the Calgary Herald where he refers to the detractors of Elizabeth Cannon as “those who now slag her from the comfort of their tenured La-Z-Boy.”

An independent review will probe the university over concerns about corporate influence at the school following media reports alleging Enbridge interfered at the university’s Centre for Corporate Sustainability after the company provided a donation.

The investigation was ordered by the institution’s board of governors.

Dinning, who served as a cabinet minister in Ralph Klein’s Progressive Conservative government, says criticism of Cannon and her efforts to attract more funding are “unwarranted.”

He calls Cannon “an academic with superlative credentials” who is “unbending when defending academic integrity.”

“During my time as chancellor, I was on the front lines to witness the dedication, passion and tireless energy that Elizabeth and her executive team devote to the university and the province,” Dinning wrote in an opinion piece posted on the Herald’s website on Saturday.

“It is through this lens that I find it unconscionable that the very people Cannon works so hard to support have turned on her. Why? Because she is a strong woman? Because she demands the best from those she leads?”

Cannon, who has stepped down from her paid position as a director of the Enbridge Income Fund, will not take part in the review. Nor will board chairwoman Bonnie DuPont, a former Enbridge executive.

Dinning wrote that it’s been a matter of public record since 2004 that Cannon was a trustee with the company, and he said it was spelled out in her publicly disclosed presidential contracts in 2010 and 2014.

He noted that when the province cut post-secondary funding in 2013, Cannon “didn’t light her hair on fire as others did.”

“She went to work behind the scenes, and was tireless in her efforts to make provincial leaders come face to face with the work of researchers, professors and students, highlighting their worthiness for more funding,” Dinning wrote.

“Even the work of those who now slag her from the comfort of their tenured La-Z-Boy.”

Cannon has said that there is a written agreement set out with expectations when funds come from the private sector, but the university makes decisions on day-to-day operations and staff.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers has said the former chairman of the Centre for Corporate Sustainability claims he was fired after raising concerns about Enbridge’s influence.

Retired justice Terrence McMahon will lead the independent review. He is to provide his report to an ad hoc committee by Dec. 14 and a representative of the school’s board of governors has said its conclusions will be released to the public.