NorQuest College CEO latest post-secondary executive to quit

The president and CEO of Norquest College will leave the post in January 2020 after nearly a decade at the helm.

Norquest College president Jodi Abbott will step down from the role in January 2020, she announced on Sept. 5, 2019. Ed Kaiser / Edmonton Journal

The president and CEO of NorQuest College, Jodi Abbott, has resigned and will leave the post next January, six months before the end of her contract.

Her resignation is the latest in a string of post-secondary executives who have left their posts.

This comes after the NDP government introduced new rules in 2018 that put salary and benefit caps on post-secondary institution presidents by 2020.

On Aug. 17, the United Conservative Party government mass-appointed 43 new members to 11 post-secondary institution’s governing boards. NorQuest was not among them.

The new compensation rules, which took effect on April 15, 2018, divided Alberta post-secondary leaders into five pay bands.

Presidents of the universities of Alberta and Calgary, which are the top tier, can earn no more than $447,000 in base pay. The new rules allowed about 20 per cent more in benefits.

NorQuest’s president is in the second-lowest tier, with a maximum possible base salary of $267,500.

According to NorQuest’s legally required compensation disclosure website, sometimes called a “sunshine list,” Abbott earned $485,371.84 in salary and benefits in 2018. In 2016, her take-home compensation was higher, at $541,421.00

Abbott, who has led the institution since July 2010, will step aside effective Jan. 3, 2020, said a Thursday news release.

NorQuest offered pre-emptive bonus to hang on to Abbott

Abbott’s employment contract, which is posted on the college’s website, shows NorQuest’s board in 2015 offered her two extra cash payment options should any future provincial laws reduce her total compensation by more than five per cent.

“NorQuest College recognizes that the uncertainty regarding legislation which negatively affects the employment of its key senior management employees may result in their departure to the detriment of NorQuest College’s interest,” the 2015 agreement said.

To hang on to senior college leaders, “it wishes to provide for certain incentives to realize such business objectives,” it said.

In return for claiming either bonus, Abbott would have to stay on as president for an additional two years, said the agreement, signed Oct. 26, 2015.

However, a letter appended to her contract on Nov. 9, 2018, said NorQuest may not be able to fulfill its bonus offer. It said Abbott has until March 2020 to claim the cash — if it’s legal.

“As has been communicated to you, the board has concerns regarding your ability to legally exercise either option,” the letter said.

The chairwoman of the NorQuest College board, Ann Colbourne, resigned from her position on Aug. 2, less than 17 months after her appointment by the former NDP government, according to the advanced education ministry.

The advanced education minister’s press secretary, Laurie Chandler, did not say why Colbourne resigned. She could not be reached on Thursday.

NorQuest College president and CEO Jodi Abbott, left, and NorQuest College board chairwoman Ann Colbourne, right, present Canadian hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser with an honorary diploma in Edmonton on May 24, 2018.


NorQuest spokesman Richard Wright said Thursday Abbott is not eligible for a bonus, because she resigned.

In a Thursday news release, acting NorQuest board chairwoman Carla Madra said the college’s enrolment has more than doubled to 18,381 students under Abbott’s leadership. She rustled up $170 million to open the Singhmar Centre for Learning in 2017 and struck an advisory council to make the college more responsive to employer and public sector needs, Madra’s statement said.

“Naturally, the board is very sorry to see Dr. Abbott leave,” the statement said. “She has been instrumental in transforming the college to the vibrant and exciting place it is today. We thank her for her passion, her energy, her vision and her determination to serve the diverse mix of people who pass through our doors every day.”

The board will launch a search process this fall for Abbott’s replacement.

Compensation caps vary

Abbott is the sixth major post-secondary institution leader in Alberta to announce their departure in the last couple of years. University of Alberta president David Turpin is leaving in June 2020 after one five-year term.

In July, former MacEwan University president Debra Saucier left the job less than two years into her term.

In May, NAIT president and CEO Glenn Feltham said he’ll retire in December 2019.

Former University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon stepped away in 2018 before her contract expired.

Past Mount Royal University president David Docherty left that role in May to become president of Brandon University in Manitoba.