Quest University is facing a renewed bout of financial trouble that has prompted an indefinite halt to the school’s academic programming.
What follows is a short timeline of the school’s history and financial challenges that led to Quest’s current situation.
In May 2002, The Sea to Sky University Act receives assent from the provincial government. This paves the way for a university to establish its roots in Squamish.
Five years later – in 2007 – Quest University opens its doors. Founded by David Strangway, who said his intention was to create Canada’s first non-profit private university, the school’s goal was to employ a unique method of learning called the block system. Under this method, students are immersed continually in one subject at a time, with the intent of giving them a more in-depth learning experience.
In 2017, Quest gets into disputes that wind up in court. That year, the school, along with several associated charities, sues the District of Squamish, alleging the municipality backed out of a deal that would waive development cost charges for its lands.
Development cost charges pay for things like pipes and roads that connect a new development to a municipality, and in Squamish, it is customary for a new development to pay those fees to the district.
Quest’s civil claim said that the municipality agreed to make an exemption for the fees, with the understanding that the school would be the one constructing the necessary infrastructure associated with the creation of the school.
The district, however, said that the school failed to build the works according to agreed-upon terms and deadlines, and both parties terminated the deal.
The municipality also added that it did not agree to forever waive development cost charges.
That same year, Quest was sued by former president Peter Englert for a breach of contract, which the school denied.
In 2018, the school addressed the potential for a conflict of interest with developer Michael Hutchison and David Fujimagari, both of Bethel Lands Corp.
At that time, the pair sat on the school’s board of governors, and their company owned some of the university’s student housing buildings. They were involved in a partnership with the school that was considering the construction of facilities on the school’s lands. Quest’s president at the time, George Iwama, said that measures had been taken to avoid a conflict of interest. The Bethel associates had recused themselves from matters involving their business interests. It’s unclear what came of this partnership.
That same year, Quest was sued over land issues by two charities that had addresses linked to the Benefic Group, which was then run by Vancouver lawyer Blake Bromley.
The Sea to Sky Foundation, which owned Quest’s lands at the time, transferred some of the land to the Stewart and Marilyn Blusson Foundation. This marked the start of transactions that eventually saw a portion of land transferred to the Eden Glen Foundation and another portion to the Global Charity Fund, according to the civil claim.
At the time, those charities alleged that Quest applied to the District to have its land subdivided, presumably for the purpose of further housing development, the lawsuit said.
They alleged that if Quest built those units, it would subtract from the market-housing cap for the land in the area, and would reduce the amount of units the charities could build.
Later in 2018, The Squamish Chief obtained documents from the provincial Degree Quality Assessment Board via freedom of information request. The documents said Quest University faced a “crisis” in the wake of administrative and financial challenges, but that government officials who reviewed the situation placed faith in the school’s management.
In October 2018, The Globe and Mail published a story entitled, “Inside the charity network that has helped wealthy donors get big tax breaks – and their donations back.” It features both Blake Bromley and describes his work with Quest University, among other things.
The following year, Quest’s former executive vice-president sued the school. I-Chant Andrea Chiang claimed a breach of contract, saying she was wrongfully terminated.
“Her termination occurred because she was associated closely with the president, Dr. [Peter] Englert, who was known to oppose the development of certain Quest lands that Mr. Hutchison and Mr. Fujimagari, both then-governors of Quest, were pursuing development of,” the claim read.
In 2020, the school filed for financial protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. This occurred after its biggest lender, the Vanchorverve Foundation – a charity registered by Vancouver lawyer Blake Bromley – called in its loan of about $23.4 million.
Quest eventually wound up selling off its campus in order to pay off its debts.
Under this arrangement, Primacorp Ventures, headed by Peter Chung, now owns the campus buildings and lands, which are leased back to Quest.
Around the time the deal was announced in late 2020, Vivian Krause, an independent researcher, alleged in court that Quest University was unjustly denied donations as a result of questionable transactions involving charities linked to the school.
“One charity: $123 million. Another charity: $89 million. Sea to Sky Foundation – which had no purpose other than to build Quest – it tax receipted $89 million. The construction costs of the university were only $32 [million]. If those donations had been real, Quest would've had – just from that one charity – it should've had $60 million. None of this whole entire proceeding would have been necessary," Krause told the court.
The Primacorp deal also prompted concern from the District of Squamish. Then-mayor Karen Elliott said, among other things, that the municipality was concerned that it could leave “a for-profit company controlling the lands, instead of a university of significant standing, should Quest not succeed.”
After the Primacorp deal, people with links to Chung were brought in to serve at Primacorp's higher education division. The company bills itself as Canada’s largest provider of private post-secondary education. Its higher education division provided Quest with services such as recruitment and marketing. It had a similar arrangement with New York City-based The King’s College, which is also facing financial challenges.
Scott Fehrenbacher and Mat Marquez, two former Trinity Western University officials, where Chung served on the board of governors, joined the division.
By 2023, the school declared that would indefinitely halt its academic program. However, despite the optics, the university’s president says the school is not closing and will find a way to reopen at some point.
Days after this announcement, it was discovered that since October 2022, the school’s lands and facilities had been listed for sale by NAI Commercial. The price is undisclosed and subject to a non-disclosure agreement for serious bidders only.
“Currently, a single legal title (lot 1), once subdivided, the remaining land will provide for an estimated 38 acres of gross development land for a number of identified uses which include market and non-market housing, commercial development, university uses, public elementary school and park dedication,” states the NAI Commercial flyer.
With a file from Bob Mackin.