Athabasca University board members replaced with UCP donors

The UCP has replaced 4 board members and filled a single vacancy with 7 new board members, most of which have donated thousands to the party or its predecessors.

Earlier this week, the Government of Alberta announced that they had rescinded the appointments of 4 members of Athabasca University’s board of governors.

Here are the outgoing members, their appointment dates, and when there term was supposed to expire:

Board memberAppointedOriginal expiry
Sharon Anderson25 Nov 202020 Nov 2023
John Daniel23 Mar 2022 22 Mar 2025
Andrew Ko29 Sep 2021 28 Sep 2024
McDonald Madamombe19 Feb 2020 18 Feb 2023

All 4 members were public members of the board.

The government also announced that they were reappointing Ilario (Larry) Spagnolo, whose term had expired this past summer.

Interestingly, according to Elections Alberta’s Financial Disclosure database, Spagnolo donated $1,000 to the UCP constituency association in the Morinville–St. Albert riding in 2020, as well $900 to the party itself in 2019. He also is a UCP constituency association president who served on the 2022 UCP leadership election committee.

As well, another board member—Bryan Berg—had his term expire this summer; however, he wasn’t renewed to another term alongside Spagnolo.

With Berg’s expiration and the rescindments of Anderson, Daniel, Ko, and Madamombe, that left the board with 5 vacancies.

The UCP government announced, however, that they were appointing 7 new board members:

  • Leo de Bever
  • Don Gnatiuk
  • Dan Leckelt
  • Terry Lovelace
  • Mike Lovsin
  • Lori Van Rooijen
  • Wilfred Willier

Their announcement indicated that Lovsin was specifically being appointed to succeed Berg.

Leo de Bever is a Calgary economist. He is an investment director with SDTC, a senior fellow with CD Howe Institute, a senior advisor with Mountain Pacific Group and Clariti, and chair with Nauticol Energy. He also was the CEO of Alberta Investment Management Corporation between 2008 and 2014.

In 2019, de Bever donated $3,000 to the UCP.

Don Gnatiuk is a management consultant based out of Edmonton. He’s also the chair of GEF Seniors Housing and a board member with Bredin Centre for Career Advancement. Between 2007 and 2019, he served as the president and CEO of Grande Prairie Regional College, now Northwestern Polytechnic.

While he was president of GPRC, he donated over $3,000 to the UCP’s predecessor, the Progressive Conservatives: $1,800 in 2008 and $1,350 in 2010.

Dan Leckelt is also based out of the Edmonton area. According to his LinkedIn profile, he was owner and co-president at Silent-Aire Manufacturing between 1999 and 2021; although the company website now lists him as co-CEO with his younger brother Lindsey. The company was acquired last year by Ireland-based Johnson Controls, where Leckelt is now vice president of data centre solutions. He’s also co-owner of 3 hockey teams: Stony Plain Eagles, Spruce Grove Saints, and the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds.

Leckelt is a long financial supporter of the UCP, having donated $1,000 to the party in 2017, $3,000 in 2019, and $4,000 in 2020. He also donated $1,000 to the Edmonton–Glenora UCP constituency association in 2018 and $1,000 to the party’s 2019 provincial election campaign. And he donated $700 the the UCP’s predecessor, the Wildrose Party, in 2016.

That’s not all. Other family members of his are also avid UCP supporters.

For example, his dad, Don, and his mum, Lorraine, have donated $9,507.50 to the party or its predecessors since 2016, including to constituency associations, as part of the provincial election campaign, and to the party in general.

His brother, Lindsey (and his spouse Brandy) have donated $6,000. And Dan’s spouse, Bobbie Jean (also known as BJ), has donated $3,000.

Combined, the Leckelt family has donated $29,387.50 to the UCP or its predecessors since 2013. Oh, and that’s not including the $5,000 donated under the company’s name to the Wildrose in 2012.

Terry Lovelace is a project manager for Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries and is based out of Boyle, which is about half an hour from Athabasca. I couldn’t find any donation history for Lovelace.

Michael Lovsin is president of Freson Market, a grocery chain in Northern Alberta founded by his family in 1955. He donated $1,000 to the UCP 2019 election campaign, as well as another $1,000 to the party in both 2019 and 2020.

His brother, Doug, donated $12,247.25 to the party or its predecessors since 2010, and their dad, Frank, has donated $11,000. Combined, the three have donated $28,147.25 to the UCP or its predecessors. Although, that’s not including the $5,000 that Frank donated to the Alberta Advantage Fund political action committee created to help organize the UCP and elect its first leader. Or the nearly $18,000 donated to the PC party between 2008 and 2014 under the family’s company name.

Lori Van Rooijen is a strategist and the managing principal of the Calgary-based Larkspur Consulting. She’s also the board chair at the Glenbow Museum. I found no records of political donations for Van Rooijen.

According to an anonymous source:

“Lori Van Rooijen was the VP Advancement at Athabasca U in the early 2000’s under Pannekoek. She was, to the best of my knowledge, the first AU executive, not to work from Athabasca. She worked from the YYC office.”

I found two people named Wilfred Willier. One is an Edmonton-based lawyer, and the other is his dad, who lives in High Prairie. I’m not sure which one has been appointed to the board of governors.

As far as political donations, there was a total of $3,743.75 donated by people names Wilfred Willier, Wilf Willier, and Will Willier between 2004 and 2020. All but $450 of it went to the UCP, PC, or Wildrose parties. The $450, however, was donated to the Alberta NDP in 2020.

Rosemarie Willier, the spouse of Wilfred Sr., has donated $2,100 between 2013 and 2020. Of that, $300 went to the NDP in 2020, and the rest went to the UCP or Wildrose parties.

All the new appointments, as well as Spagnolo’s reappointment, are 3-year terms, expiring on 4 October 2025.

According to a news article published by Adam Toy at Global News earlier this week, the shakeup is to apply more pressure on the university’s executive to force faculty at the primarily distance-learning institution to move to Athabasca, a town of about 3,000 people.

Until now, the university has been reluctant to follow the directive the UCP had issued to them. According to a statement from the university, which Toy quoted in his article, the institution has “a comprehensive and balanced plan that achieves the objectives of the university and the priorities identified by the minister while ensuring AU’s team members and its learners remain our top priority.”

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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