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Colleges minister raised $24k from private college execs at meet and greet

The PCs raised over $150k from executives with public-private college partnerships the government saved from extinction
Universities and Colleges Minister Jill Dunlop — pictured here in 2020 as associate minister of children and women's issues — makes an announcement at the daily briefing on COVID-19 at the legislature in Toronto, Thursday, June 25, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a Village Media website devoted to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

As international students offered a financial lifeline to many post-secondary institutions across the province, executives of some of these schools have also buoyed Tory fundraising numbers.

The Progressive Conservatives have raked in over $151,000 from directors and executives of private schools that partnered with public colleges since 2018, corporate records and Elections Ontario data show. Most of the money — over $62,000 — donated to the PCs’ causes by directors and executives of public college-private partnerships (PPPs) schools went directly to the party. 

Specific riding associations also cashed in, including Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop’s Simcoe North, which has raised more than $27,000 from directors and executives of PPPs since she was appointed to the ministerial portfolio in 2021. It was the most of any riding association.

College PPPs are when a public college licenses a private institution to teach its curriculum at a satellite campus — run by a private college — often in the Greater Toronto Area. 

These partnerships have been around for nearly 20 years but came to flourish because of the Ford government.

After the PCs came to power, they reversed a decision by the previous Liberal government to end the partnerships.

They then “significantly expanded” in 2019-20 and 2020-21, a recent auditor general report found.

In 2019, the Ford government also cut and then froze tuition rates for domestic students, but not for international ones. In the years since the higher tuition rates paid by more and more international students, in many schools’ cases, have increasingly filled the hole created by stagnant provincial funding and the five-year-long tuition. 

By 2022, nearly every college outside the Greater Toronto Area was in the PPP game. 

They’ve been so successful for colleges — particularly those in northern and rural areas — because international students prefer to study in the GTA, according to the audit. 

Not only does an international student get a degree from a public college, they also get access to the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, which is a pathway to employment and permanent residency.

Nearly all of the money raised by Dunlop’s riding association from PPP executives since she became minister — $24,300 out of  $27,225 — came at a single event on March 7, 2022, Elections Ontario fundraising data and corporate records show, when Dunlop’s riding association hosted a meet and greet with the minister at the Canadian National Exhibition in downtown Toronto. Nearly a third of the 78 people who attended were associated with the public college-private partnerships.

Dunlop did not discuss PPPs with anyone at the March 7, 2022 fundraiser, her office said. 

The remaining $2,925 came from separate donations not associated with the event.

Twelve people associated with private career colleges — ones without a partnership with a public college — also paid to attend the event, netting the riding association an additional $10,800.  

Twenty-one directors or executives from 10 of the private schools paid $1,000 per ticket to attend, with $900 going to the riding association per ticket, records show. Three people purchased three tickets each. 

Yifan Li and John Wu are listed as directors of Ace Acumen Academy, which partnered with St. Clair College. Ace Acumen Academy has three campuses in the GTA. One in Toronto, another in Mississauga, and the third in Brampton. Both bought tickets to the event. 

Ace Acumen is owned by Global Education Mihome (GEM) Corporation, which also lists Li and Wu as directors in the federal business registry. GEM was also contracted to develop and manage a new international student residence at St. Clair College’s south Windsor campus. 

Alpha College of Business and Technology’s Vivian Liu and Peter McCormack both purchased a ticket. Alpha partnered with St. Lawrence College and has one campus in Toronto. 

Two executives — Gerald Ding and Changyong Ding — from Stanford International College of Business and Technology bought tickets. 

Stanford partnered with Canadore College and has four campuses across the GTA. 

Trios directors Stuart Bentley and Craig Donaldson both bought a ticket, as did John Cruickshank, Trios’s government and community relations manager, and Curt Moeller, Trios’s interim vice-president of admissions and financial aid. 

Trios partnered with both Mohawk College and Sault College and has campuses in Brampton, Mississauga and Toronto. 

ILAC International College’s Ilan Cohen and Jonathan Kobler both bought three tickets each. ILAC partnered with both Fanshawe College and Georgian College, and has four campuses across Toronto.  

Gaurav Sareen, campus manager at Queen’s College of Business, Technology and Public Safety, purchased one ticket. Queen’s partnered with Lambton College and has a single campus in Mississauga. 

Toronto Business College CEO Simon MacQueen purchased three tickets. His institution partnered with Loyalist College and also has a single campus in Toronto. 

Seven different people associated with both the Toronto School of Management and the Trebas Institute each purchased one ticket. 

The Toronto School of Management, partnered with Niagara College, has two campuses in Toronto, while Trebas, partnered with Fleming College, has two campuses in Toronto. 

Both schools are operated by Global University Systems, a multinational firm that runs several private colleges and universities across the world. 

Ehsan Safdari is listed on the corporate documents for both Trebas and the Toronto School of Management. He’s the president and managing director of Global University Systems Canada, according to his LinkedIn profile. He purchased one ticket.

“Toronto School of Management staff including myself may support political parties within established laws on their own behalf, not on behalf of the organization,” Safdari said when asked to comment on this story. 

Mark Ruddy, campus director at Trebas Toronto, also purchased one ticket, as did Manny Bassi, vice president of operations and infrastructure at the Toronto School of Management. 

Four other Global University Systems executives — chief partnership officer Diana Mockute, vice-president of finance Michael Kassabian, director of international strategy Bernardo Riveros, and Boris Podlubiny, who was listed as chief financial officer but no longer has a LinkedIn profile and isn’t on the company’s webpage — each purchased a ticket.  

None of the other directors or executives from the PPPs could be reached for comment. 

Dunlop has made several changes favourable to the industry during her tenure as minister. 

In 2023, a year after the CNE fundraiser, her ministry changed the rules around how many international students were allowed to enroll at a public college. 

The previous rules, implemented in 2019, capped international student enrollment at private partner schools at twice the number of international students on the home campus. A 2021 auditor general report found that the cap was hardly enforced. 

The 2022 change put a cap of 7,500 on each institution's PPP enrolment, regardless of the number of international students at the home campus. A 2023 auditor general report said the ministry was in the process of implementing penalties and other non-compliance mechanisms. 

Dunlop also introduced a bill that amended the legislation governing private career colleges so that the term "private" isn't in the act. Instead, the act itself and all references to the schools call them "Ontario career colleges." 

Former PC MPP Vincent Ke also raised significant sums from the heads of these private schools. Ke’s Don Valley North riding association raised over $16,000 from eight executives from six schools since 2019. 

Ke was dropped from PC caucus in March 2023 over allegations of involvement in an election interference plot. Ke has denied all allegations.

The Trillium asked Ke if he discussed any policy changes with the executives or if he was influenced by them. 

"The answer to both of your questions is no," a spokesperson said. 

The PCs’ Lambton—Kent—Middlesex riding association has also been a big donation recipient. Former labour and immigration minister Monte McNaughton represented the riding from 2011 to 2023, before stepping down to enter the private sector. He championed getting more immigrants into Ontario’s workforce. 

Three executives from two schools gave the riding association over $11,500 since 2019. Just over $11,000 came from two executives at the Cestar College of Business, Health and Technology, which partnered with Lambton College, in McNaughton’s home riding. Cestar has one campus in Toronto

McNaughton could not be reached for comment. 

Though the last few years have been fruitful for the public and private colleges on both sides of the partnerships, their futures are in doubt. 

Earlier this year, the federal government announced a cap on the number of international students allowed in the country over the next two years. It also announced students attending public college-private partnership schools won’t be eligible for post-graduation work permits, which some college presidents have said will likely result in the partnerships being shut down.  

In 2024, Ottawa will approve 360,000 international student permits divided between the provinces based on population. Ontario, which admits the most international students, will see its numbers drop by 50 per cent. 

Some private colleges have been actively lobbying ahead of the cap’s imposition. 

Alpha College of Business and Technology currently has five lobbyists from Loyalist Public Affairs working to communicate “with the government on the provincial impacts of the federal government’s cap on foreign students,” according to their registrations. 

Other private colleges are also lobbying, though the registrations don’t explicitly mention the international students cap. 

Trios CEO Frank Gerencser is registered to lobby and has several goals, including changing the ministry’s policies on PPPs. 

Global University Systems hired McMillan Vantage’s Jeff Rutledge “to discuss government priorities relating to regulatory and or policy changes that would impact private education institutions,” according to the registration

Pures College of Technology, which partnered with Northern College and has one campus in Scarborough, has four lobbyists from four firms currently registered. 

Cestar College of Business, Health and Technology — whose executives are the most prolific PC donors — has three lobbyists from two firms currently registered. They had four more but those registrations ended in 2021. 

The Tories also moved to restrict PPPs after the federal government announced the cap. One of the biggest promises was introducing a moratorium on new PPPs "while further work is done to strengthen oversight mechanisms and ensure the quality of existing partnerships."

The Ford government is poised to make two decisions that’ll have a significant impact on the sector going forward. 

First, it has to decide how to split international student permits between all the post-secondary schools in the province. 

Second, the Tories promised to decide how to respond to a report on the sector’s financial future. Ford has already ruled out raising tuition but hasn’t said whether the government will increase provincial funding. 

Minister Dunlop said Wednesday she will soon be announcing a “path forward” for the sector.


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Aidan Chamandy

About the Author: Aidan Chamandy

Aidan Chamandy specializes in energy and housing. He can usually be found looking for government documents on obscure websites and filing freedom-of-information requests. He hosts and produces podcasts. Reach him anytime at [email protected].
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