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Conservatives trying to take over student unions: audiotapes

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Conservative MP Peter Braid at workshop.

A series of audiotapes recorded at workshops held by the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association show that the Conservative party is trying to take over student organizations – by any means necessary.

The workshops are held in cities across the province, with topics ranging from how to win a student union election to how to combat and remove funding for progressive student organizations such as the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

Even more disturbing is that these trainings are being organized with the support and resources of Canada’s governing party, evidenced by the participation of Conservative MP Peter Braid and his campaign manager, Aaron Lee-Wudrick.

In one audiotape, workshop facilitator Ryan O’Connor, former executive of the University of Waterloo Federation of Students, encourages participants to establish multiple front groups on campuses for the Conservative party, even if the members are all the same.

Co-facilitator Aaron Lee-Wudrick illustrated this point with an example of his own: “We had a front group like that: the Campus Coalition for Liberty.  It was really just a front for the conservatives, but it gave us like two voices.  Two organizations support this, the Young Tories and the Campus Coalition for Liberty, which is the same thing…”

They pointed out that multiple campus clubs consisting of the same handful of Conservative party members could create the impression of a large campus movement, with the added bonus of each front group receiving its own funding from the student union.

The Ontario PC Campus Association knows a thing or two about meddling in student politics.  Years ago, it was revealed that since the year 2000, the Ontario PC Party and its Campus Association have operated a “Millennium Leadership Fund” to get Conservatives elected to student unions.  Since the Association has never disclosed which candidates they funded, students have relied on circumstantial evidence to identify candidates on the receiving end of this secret fund.

In 2004, a right-wing slate calling itself “Progress Not Politics” assumed office at the York Federation of Students.  The owner of the website domain for their election bid was Kasra Najatian, a Queen’s University student who was president of the Ontario PC Campus Association.

Shortly after taking office, the “Progress Not Politics” executive hired the previous president of the Ontario PC Campus Association.  This person was none other than Ryan O’Connor, one of the facilitators for the recent workshops on how to take over a student union.

With student union elections happening at York University this week, these latest revelations raise questions about whether the Progressive Conservative party is again interfering in elections for the York Federation of Students.

Over the past few months, a couple of student groups have suddenly appeared at York University to condemn the student union on a wide range of issues.  They have allied themselves with pro-life groups and pro-Israel groups on campus; exactly the organizations participants were encouraged to work with in these workshops.

One of these ostensibly non-partisan clubs even organized a rally that included Progressive Conservative MPPs Peter Shurman and Lisa MacLeod as speakers.

The students involved in these groups have coalesced around a slate “York Forward” which is contesting the YFS elections this week.  When questioned about these latest revelations, representatives of York Forward quickly responded by flatly denying any association with the Ontario PC Campus Association.

Perhaps Ryan O’Connor’s membership in the York Forward group on Facebook is purely coincidental.  But his comments on one audiotape suggest a more ominous explanation: “Sometimes you can’t attach the Tory name to it, and you have to be sensitive to that.”

To hear audiotapes and view documents from the workshops, click here.

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