I should go on record as saying that politics on campus isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing to expose students to politics, and it isn’t a bad thing to get them involved.
What is bad, however, is when the exposure is done in a duplicitous way such that the students are bamboozled into thinking they’re putting their support behind something they’re not, or worse, if they’re lied to outright.
And using leaked documents from WikiLeaks.org, The Ryerson Free Press recently demonstrated that this is precisely what Conservatives have been busy doing at universities across Ontario (and probably elsewhere), sometimes even misdirecting funds or working with federal funding to try to crush student groups they don’t like.
The leaked materials were posted on WikiLeaks.org over the weekend and add to the growing body of evidence that the Conservative Party has a strategy for interfering in campus student unions. In early 2002, the campus press first learned of a secret Millennium Leadership Fund that the party’s campus wing used to fund candidates in student union elections. Now it appears that strategy has evolved into a campaign to falsely obtain student union funding and destabilize student clubs with a social justice mandate.
Among those present at the workshop were Member of Parliament for Kitchener-Waterloo, Peter Braid and his campaign manager, Aaron Lee-Wudrick. Lee-Wudrick is heard on the recordings providing advice on how to siphon money from students’ unions through “front organizations” that would work to further the goals of the Conservative Party.
OPIRGs are campus organizations that are usually funded through a dedicated student levy to coordinate campus campaigns on human rights and social justice.
While Lee-Wudrick and O’Connor’s plan to cancel WPIRG’s (Waterloo OPIRG), funding failed in 2002, they boasted that it paved the way for another attempt in 2005, and expressed hope of success in the future.
They also identified student unions, campus radio stations and the Canadian Federation of Students as potential targets of a campaign to eliminate each organization’s funding. “Part of the objective here is to bring people into the Party. That’s a good thing,” said O’Connor. “Young liberals will help you out…and they’re some of the strongest allies on student issues,” he added.
During the workshop, student Conservatives were also coached on how to set up “shell groups” as a way to advance a partisan agenda on campus.
“Yeah 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.” said Lee-Wudrick.
He added: “Don’t think that the Party doesn’t like that, because they do. They’re things that will help the Party, but it looks like it’s an organically-grown organization and it just stimulated from the grassroots spontaneously. They love that stuff… Remember all of the Rallies for Democracy … that’s just an example of how big those things can get.”
In 2002, a secret Millennium Leadership Fund of the youth wing of the Progressive Conservative Party was exposed by the Western Gazette in an article called “Tories plot to infiltrate student government.”
The article referred to an email leaked in March of 2002 in which then OPCCA President Adam Daifallah boasted to fellow party members about Millennium Leadership Fund recipients who were successfully elected that year at Queen’s University, the University of Waterloo and the University of Windsor. According to the Gazette, the Millennium Fund was largely paid for by senior Progressive Conservative members and supporters.