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Questions about Quest University Canada’s uncertain future could be answered this week

The institution sought protection from creditors over three years ago
Quest University Canada in Squamish sought protection from creditors more than three years ago | Quest

Staff and students at Quest University Canada could learn the future of the Squamish institution this week.

Meetings were expected to take place as soon as Feb. 22, after the university’s landlord stopped providing services under its late 2020 agreement to rescue Quest.

Three years ago last month, the private liberal arts and science college sought court protection from creditors under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. Quest’s biggest lender was the Vanchorverve Foundation, a charity registered by Vancouver lawyer Blake Bromley, which demanded repayment of $23.4 million.

In October 2020, New Westminster-based Primacorp Ventures Inc. announced it would buy the campus building and lands, lease them to Quest and provide comprehensive services for student recruitment, marketing, fundraising and other support.

Primacorp, under chair Peter Chung, bills itself as Canada’s largest provider of private post-secondary education with 15,000 annual enrolments. It has subsidiaries in seniors’ housing, commercial real estate and self storage in Canada and the U.S.

However, the relationship appears to have suddenly changed.

Melissa Davis, director of marketing and communications for Primacorp, did not respond to phone calls, but did say by email that: “Primacorp is no longer involved in Quest outside of the support with buildings and land.”

She did not respond to follow-up email or phone calls, seeking to know when Primacorp discontinued providing the broad range of services.

Former University of British Columbia (UBC) board of governors chair Michael Korenberg was the vice-chair of Primacorp, in charge of Quest.

“I am no longer associated with Primacorp in any way,” he said by email. Like Davis, Korenberg also did not answer follow-up phone calls and email.

Quest president Art Coren and vice-president, academic, Jeff Warren did not respond to repeated calls and emails. Board chair Arthur Willms also did not respond.

Academic dean Halia Valladares Montemayor was the only faculty member to reply, but she deferred comment to Quest’s marketing and communications department, which has not responded.

Quest opened in 2007 under former UBC president David Strangway. As of 2022, more than 1,000 students had graduated from Quest. The Quest website says it charges Canadians $23,000 and non-Canadians $38,000 for annual tuition. Room, board, travel and other fees are estimated at $15,000. 

In November 2020, then Squamish mayor Karen Elliott issued a public statement expressing “grave concern” over Primacorp’s takeover. The district had supported Quest since a June 2000 memorandum of understanding and later waived property taxes for the university and spent $5 million on municipal services infrastructure.

“We are deeply concerned that the agreement signed does not reflect the district’s interests, creates an uphill runway for Quest that will make it difficult for it to be viable given the ongoing challenges related to the pandemic, possibly reduces student refunds and faculty severances as unsecured creditors, and leaves a for-profit company controlling the lands, instead of a university of significant standing should Quest not succeed,” Elliott said.

Armand Hurford became mayor last October. Instead of responding to a reporter, he deferred to the district’s communications director Christina Moore, who sent a prepared statement.

“The district’s early investments were made, and ongoing support provided, because of its shared vision that a reputable and ground-breaking university on those lands would bring social and economic benefits to the community. This is therefore a relationship and a situation that we have great interest in and will continue to follow closely,” said Moore’s statement.