.. at least, not at Saturday’s session on political social networking: a (not actually all that secret as of this morning) strategy to “take over student unions”, as reported (or, to use their phrase, “exposed”) by the Ryerson Free Press:
Audio recordings, photographs and documents that were leaked from a recent Conservative Party student workshop at the University of Waterloo expose a partisan attempt to take over student unions and undermine Ontario Public Interest Research Groups (OPIRGs) on campuses across Ontario.
At a session held in early February by the Ontario Progressive Campus Conservative Association (OPCCA) and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, campus Conservatives, party campaigners, and a Member of Parliament discussed strategies to gain funding from student unions for the Conservative Party and ways to run for—and win—positions within student unions. […]
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. […]
In the presentation caught on the recording, Lee-Wudrick and Ryan O’Connor, a former Vice-President of the Waterloo Federation of Students, spoke about how they were able to manipulate the student union board to run a referendum to refund the fees of the Waterloo OPIRG (WPIRG) chapter in the early 2000s. They disclose that when O’Connor was a Vice-President, he worked with Lee-Wudrick, then President of the campus Conservative club, to push forward their partisan agenda, often by using the resources of the students’ union.
In the presentation, Lee-Wudrick said, “If it’s possible if, in one fell swoop, to take over the Board of Directors [of OPIRG], I think that it would be pretty impressive, and you’d be a hero to the Conservative movement if you can pull that off.” […]
NOTE: SCROLL DOWN FOR IMPORTANT UPDATE/CLARIFICATION!
The leaked recordings, as well as related material, are available via Wikileaks here for now. It will be interesting to see if any legal threats result from the claims being put forward by the newspaper; although several of the presenters, including a sitting MP, do have ties to the party and/or the Manning Centre, it’s by no means clear if they were there in an official capacity, or as private individuals. It’s also possible that this sort of cross-pollination between parties and ostensibly nonpartisan student organizations happens all the time, and these Conservatives were just unlucky enough to get caught on tape.
This is going to sound odd coming from a journalist, but the whole surreptitious-recording-people-who-think-they’re-talking-amongst-friends thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth — how different is this, really, than what happened to the NDP during that conference call last December? Well, other than the fact that it’s not PMO putting out the audio, that is. Okay, maybe it is a little different, but still. Where do you draw the line? Conversely, is it really a good idea to encourage the theoretically idealistic young political leaders of tomorrow to manipulate the rules to further the cause by whatever means necessary?
Anyway, I’ll try to keep y’all posted on any further developments.
Courtesy of Colleague Wherry, here’s a slightly different take on Conservative youth politics.
According to self-described “staunch Young Liberal” Emile Scheffel, at least one of the people alleged to have attended one of these presentations — Nick Bergamini, VP-elect for student issues at Carleton University — was not, in fact, present. It is, in short, a “complete fabrication,” he told ITQ by email this afternoon. At least one other individual alleged to have taken part in the Waterloo meeting has also categorically denied that he was present, and dismissed the story as “a highly slanted, unresearched hit job by student activists who obviously don’t believe there’s a place for conservatives in student activism”.
In fact, it’s probably worth pointing out that the audio and quotes available on Wikileaks are all from the session held in Waterloo, which means that it would be unfair to assume that the other meetings included similar commentary and advice, particularly since there were different people involved in the events in Ottawa and Toronto. In fact, the meeting in Ottawa hasn’t even happened yet – it’s scheduled for March 21, 2009.
Of course, if anyone out there attended one of these meetings and wants to share what they heard with the world, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll update this post with any additional information.
UPDATE: Richard Ciano also denies being at the meeting in Waterloo.