Alberta’s United Conservative Party has hired the former executive director of the federal Conservative Party, who left his previous job amid the controversy involving leader Andrew Scheer’s use of party funds for his children’s private school tuition.
The UCP announced the hiring of Dustin van Vugt as the UCP’s new executive director in an email to party members Friday afternoon.
“Dustin, born and raised in Calgary, comes with strong experience serving as the executive director of the Conservative Party of Canada,” UCP president Ryan Becker said in the email.
“His first political job was here in Alberta working for an MLA under Premier Ralph Klein.”
The position of executive director is a partisan position with the party. Van Vugt will not be involved in the operation of the UCP government.
Becker’s email said the party chose van Vugt after an “extensive and competitive interview process.”
“He has a strong vision for the future of our party as we build towards the next election,” the UCP email said.
“His experience and leadership are strong assets and we can’t wait to see him get started in his new role when he begins in June.”
In an email to CBC, van Vugt said he looks “forward to coming back to my home and to Canada’s conservative heartland. I’m very excited about the opportunity.”
A spokesperson for Premier Jason Kenney declined to comment on the appropriateness of hiring van Vugt and instead directed a CBC reporter to a spokesperson for the party.
“We were very thankful Mr. van Vugt has opted to return to his home province,” Becker said in an email to CBC.
“We have no doubts about his integrity and personal character. He not only comes with strong experience and leadership skills, but is well respected among conservatives across Alberta and Canada. We’re thrilled that he’s joining us and look forward to him getting started.”
Party money used for Scheer’s children’s tuition
Van Vugt left his job as executive director of the federal Conservative Party in December after some members of the party’s main fundraising arm, the Conservative Fund, said they were unaware money from the fund was being used for the personal expense.
The deal to cover tuition costs for Scheer’s children was struck between Scheer and van Vugt, who said it was standard practice.
“All proper procedures were followed and signed off on by the appropriate people,” van Vught said in a statement issued the same day Scheer announced he would step down once an interim leader is chosen.
Kory Teneycke, Stephen Harper’s former communications director, told CBC in December that he believed Scheer stepped down as a direct result of revelations about the use of party money for his children’s private school tuition.
“It is routine for party leaders to expense things like clothing or … [things] that are related to one’s party leader activities,” Teneycke told CBC’s As It Happens. “It is not normal to expense private school tuition for your children. It’s in no way related to your duties as leader of the party.
“So I think it’s disconcerting to find out that there’s a secret slush fund … subsidizing the leader’s lifestyle.”
In April, The Canadian Press reported that an internal audit of Scheer’s expenses found he had spent $18,000 a year of Conservative party money on private school for four of his children.
The audit found the outgoing Conservative leader also spent party funds on hiring an extra housekeeper for his official residence, and on clothes for his family, private security, and his family’s minivan, a senior Conservative source told The Canadian Press.
The audit concluded the spending was properly documented by the party but was not shared in an itemized way with the group overseeing the Conservative Fund finances.
“The party’s audit found no red flags in the party’s accounting system and noted that all the expenses that were paid out were documented fully,” party spokesperson Cory Hann said in an email.
Van Vugt replaces Brad Tennant, who left the job to become a vice-president at Nick Koolsbergen’s lobbying firm Wellington Advocacy.
Koolsbergen was Kenney’s chief of staff in opposition, and headed the UCP’s 2019 provincial election campaign.
Scheer’s former communications director, Brock Harrison, was fired last November and now works as chief of staff to Rebecca Schulz, the UCP minister of children’s services.