Conservatives accused of setting up campus front groups

By Daniel Pagan

A series of alarming revelations has student leaders looking over their shoulders in Ontario. An anonymous source posted several audio files, photos and transcripts to the website Wikileaks in mid-March, spilling the beans on an Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association’s workshop at the University of Waterloo last February.

Conservative MP Peter Braid and his campaign manager Aaron Lee Wudrick attended the event, along with OPCCA members and other students. The training sessions were about getting involved with campus activism, though others have alleged they were teaching students how to push a conservative agenda on their own campuses.

Tactics mentioned on tape included instituting “nonpartisan front clubs” to advocate an agenda– such as a “Campus Coalition for Liberty”– running Conservative party members in student elections, taking over student governments, targeting the national lobby group Canadian Federation of Students or university radio stations to cut their funding or seizing Ontario Public Interest Research Groups’ boards of directors to dismantle them. OPIRGs are campus organizations devoted to addressing social justice issues, human rights and sustainability and are funded by student levies at universities.

CFS spokesperson Hamid Osman explained the organization is concerned that the Conservative Party of Canada and OPCca were using taxpayers’ money to undermine the autonomy of student unions. He mentioned that CFS was concerned about Braid’s presence at the meeting.

“It is problematic to see that funding from the Conservative Party of Canada and the OPCCA is being used to undermine the democratic process of students’ unions and to target non-partisan organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Students,” said Osman.

One student mentioned on a list of speakers at the Waterloo session is Kevin Wiener, a former arts and science student senator for The Alma Mater Society of Queen’s University. He also served as the secretary-treasurer of the Ontario PC Youth Association in the past. His name was posted on Wikileaks, but he explained he was only there for 20 minutes, visiting friends and briefly sitting in on a session. He said the event was a campus activism training conference instead, recorded by an anonymous campus activist.

“What this conference was about was teaching conservative students how to get their message out on campus and how to ensure that student fees are used for competent government and clubs rather than to promote a political agenda,” said Wiener. “The only sort of activism conservative students tend to with their student government is to stop student fees from supporting ideological groups. It is patently false, however, to suggest that these students are trying to ‘take over’ student governments so they can take orders from political parties.”

On a Wikileak audiotape, Wiener addressed the possibility of cutting OPIRGs’ funding by amending student-funding rules.

“So, um, how about instead of necessarily infighting [OPIRGs], we just get our own non-profit corporation that receives student fees and just have our own student funding to fight them,” he said on the recording. “Or the alternative, if you can get student government, which in some places you can, because OPIRG is a non-profit and not a club or a charity, just amending the student funding rules, like, ‘in order to receive funding you must be a club or a charity,’ and then, bam, they’re just not eligible to receive fees.”

Wiener said the comments were taken out of context. He said he meant that funding for OPIRGs may be objectionable to many students, due to OPIRGs’ political backgrounds and unaccountability, compared to clubs bound by student governments’ regulations.

Last March, Wiener narrowly avoided impeachment from his senator position after a motion of removal was voted down. He was falsely accused of trying to present a motion to eliminate funding to staffed organizations such as OPIRGs. However, he explained the motion was for all groups to disclose how much money they spent on salaries and honouraria.

Accusations also arose over the question of clubs being front groups at Carleton University in Ottawa. Last year, the CU Students’ Association launched an investigation into several clubs, including: the Friedrich Nietzsche Club, the Philosophy Club, the Area 51 Club, the Star Trek Club, the Star Wars Appreciation Club, the Civilization Club and the Soviet Studies Club.

Suspicions flared up when an OPCCA member set up the campus clubs. However, the CUSA president Erik Halliwell said there was no evidence of a link between the OPCCA and the clubs.

“In the investigation that we did for the clubs, we only discovered that there were front groups created by one main individual, we did not find any evidence that this money was funneled to Conservative organizations,” said Halliwell.

Neither Braid nor OPCCA had replied to multiple requests for comment before press time.

The OPCCA is not affiliated with the Conservative Party of Canada.

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