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The Canada Christian College, in Whitby, Ont. on Oct. 22, 2020.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The head of a Toronto-area Christian college widely rebuked for his anti-LGBTQ and Islamophobic statements was assured that the province could still approve the school’s controversial bid to acquire university status – even if an independent review board advised against it.

The revelation is contained in transcripts of a recorded phone conversation from Oct. 28, 2020, between Ross Romano, then-minister of colleges and universities who had the power to approve the proposal, and Charles McVety, the president of Canada Christian College.

At the time, the evangelical leader was a friend and ally of Premier Doug Ford.

Mr. Romano would later turn down Mr. McVety’s request, after the province’s Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board (PEQAB) cited “severe” shortcomings in the school’s governance, administrative capacity, financial stability and academic decision-making.

Mr. Romano is no longer a cabinet minister and now serves as the Progressive Conservative government’s chief whip.

According to the transcripts, submitted by Mr. McVety in an unsuccessful court battle against the denial of his application, Mr. Romano did tell him that he needed to follow the PEQAB process.

But he also said Mr. McVety should try to address enough of the shortcomings identified by PEQAB to make it possible for the minister to approve the school’s requested upgrade, even if the board did not.

“You’re going to get this report back from them,” the transcript reads. “And we have been working with them before that came back to you to make sure that you know exactly what the three or four areas that you need to meet in order for a positive recommendation to come back, or at least make it as easy as possible for me to sign off no matter what.”

The phone call took place as the PC government was facing a storm of criticism over Mr. Ford’s close links to Mr. McVety. It had introduced legislation to rename his religious school in Whitby, east of Toronto, as the “Canada University and School of Graduate Theological Studies,” and for it to be allowed to hand out bachelor of arts and science degrees in addition to the religious degrees it already confers.

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The transcripts appear to contradict public statements from both Mr. Romano and the Premier at the time that the college would need PEQAB approval or the legislation would not take effect.

According to the court submission, the conversation was recorded by Charles McVety’s son, Ryan McVety, the college’s vice-president and chief executive officer. Earlier in the phone call, Mr. Romano says the name change and the expanded degree-granting powers were always the goal and that the government would help the evangelical leader achieve it.

“What I said was that we were going to go through this process, that we’re going to guide this process through and we are going to make sure you got to where you wanted to go, and right where you want it to get,” says Mr. Romano, MPP for Sault Ste. Marie, according to the transcripts. “That’s always been the goal.”

Asked about the transcripts, Mr. Romano sent an e-mailed statement to The Globe and Mail.

“As this matter is currently before the courts, it would be inappropriate to provide an interpretation of the content or accuracy of the said transcripts,” Mr. Romano said. “However, I always maintained that an institution seeking additional degree-granting authority should apply to and co-operate with the process set out by the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board.”

Mr. McVety did not provide answers to Globe questions about the transcripts.

Marit Stiles, Leader of the Official Opposition New Democratic Party, said the transcript fits into a pattern of the government’s dealings with connected insiders, including its now-cancelled move to open up parts of the protected Greenbelt for housing.

“It looks like the government was going to do everything they could to give McVety preferential treatment here, to make sure that everything was fixed for him,” Ms. Stiles said.

Much of the recorded call shows Mr. McVety complaining that the PEQAB had posted his entire application on its website amid the controversy, without redacting personal information such as phone numbers, résumés, or his institution’s financial information. PEQAB CEO James Brown later apologized for the privacy breach.

At one point in the call, Mr. Romano’s then-chief of staff, Ari Laskin, says that he and Jamie Wallace, Mr. Ford’s chief of staff at the time, would advise Mr. McVety on how to respond to media requests about the privacy issue.

In an affidavit submitted to court by Ryan McVety, he alleges that both he and his father had met with Mr. Wallace in 2019 and in 2020 to discuss the issue and were initially assured it would not need to pass a PEQAB review. But the McVetys say the government later changed its mind for “political reasons.”

In a text message to The Globe, Mr. Wallace said he disputes a number of the assertions in the affidavit but declined to comment in detail because he said the matter is before the courts. However, he said “it was repeatedly made clear that [Canada Christian College] would need to meet every process and requirement attached to their application, including PEQAB approval.”

The Ford government should speak up to defend inclusive school cultures

While the Premier and Mr. McVety were once closely aligned, with Mr. McVety holding events and supporting Mr. Ford’s 2018 bid for the PC leadership, the relationship since the university application went south appears to have cooled.

Mr. McVety, who blamed “political corruption” for the decision against him, has since been sued for libel by Mr. Ford’s campaign manager, Kory Teneycke, for comments he made about the political strategist after the school’s bid was denied.

For years, Mr. McVety was one of the country’s most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage.

In 2010, after a Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruling, his TV show was thrown off a Christian television network. He had warned that sex-ed was designed for children to “learn to be homosexuals and lesbians” and said gay and lesbian people had “an insatiable appetite for sex, especially with young people.”

He also called Islam a “war machine” in a social-media post in 2016 and has said that Muslims had a mandate from their religion for a “hostile takeover.”

During the debate over his university-status application, ex-premier Kathleen Wynne called Mr. McVety “the most publicly and vocally homophobic man in Ontario.”

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