as conservative candidates run the last leg of their provincial race, busy Tory bees have been breeding the young Mikes of tomorrow by secretly buying out university politics. The Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA) is running a quiet campaign to fill student governments across the province with fresh Tory faces. Its Millennium Leadership Fund has been actively recruiting and funding young conservative candidates since 2000 in a bid to shift the tide of student politics and cultivate new party leaders.
At issue is not so much the funding itself, but the lack of transparency. Neither the universities nor OPCCA require hopefuls to publicize party donations. OPCCA in particular says recipients can stay quiet about funding if revealing it would adversely affect their campaign, according to the association's president, Adam Daifallah. So while OPCCA has bragged about its success in campus elections throughout southern Ontario, few student execs are admitting a financial connection.
"We are not going to publicize the funding to people who are not friendly to the organization or to people who are not members of the campaign," says Daifallah.
Dave Forestell, president of the Ontario PC Youth Association, the umbrella organization over the OPCCA, said he does not see a need to inform students that the party is funding electoral candidates.
"Candidates make decisions based on what will get them elected. Why would they freely offer information that would identify something negative in their campaign?" he said.
Many in U of T's Student Administrative Council are convinced that the OPCCA's fingers have reached the pockets of one of the hopefuls in thismonth's presidential run-off, Noel Semple, but they say there are no rules in place to prevent it. "We're 99 per cent sure that (his campaign) is funded by the Tories," says elections committee chair Lindsay Tabah.
According to the council's chief receiving officer, Mike Foderick, "It's no secret that just about every university and college around Ontario has a ticket that's been funded by the Tories' Millennium Fund. Noel has a strong affiliation with the PC campus youth association and he's running on a conservative platform.'
Semple denies the allegation, maintaining that his presidential race, for which the school has capped donations at $1,000, is in "no way a Progressive Conservative-funded effort."
University of Waterloo Federation of Students VP of education Ryan O'Connor admits that he and all other members of campus Conservative parties are members of OPCCA and that the association does give money to PC clubs to run events. But he, too, denies having received any Millennium Funds.
Others are more forthcoming. Paul Tambeau, chair of Wilfred Laurier's Student Union board, has been on the receiving end of Tory support and says OPCCA has been funding young conservatives at the university for a few years.
"I don't think I've been bought off. It's an association trying to promote new leaders, and there's nothing wrong with that. I didn't advertise the fact that they were funding me in my campaign, but my platform was clearly conservative, and if anyone had asked me I would've had no problems telling them. I don't think the student body is being duped.'
Student leaders and the provincial NDP expressed surprise and concern when told of the fund.
"Any student government worth anything, with any integrity, does not cater to the needs of a political party," says Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance president and Western student council VP of education Erin McCloskey. McCloskey says any student who received funding from the PCs has an unfair advantage.
"To have this sort of advantage calls into question the ethics of the person running," she says.
"Student unions are not political positions. They are a place where students work together to defend their common interests," says Enver Villamizar, president of the Students' Alliance at the University of Windsor, where at least one Tory candidate has been elected.
NDP provincial secretary Bruce Cox blasted the campaign, saying it pushes the limits of political action.
"If you have nothing to hide, then show it," he says. "I'm a little uneasy about the unfair advantage being given to some students because they have chosen to make a political decision.
"If I were a student, I would be wondering: if my elected representatives are receiving funding from the PCs, who are they representing when they speak out?"
As part of the only university in the province that bans external donations, even University of Western Ontario's PC club has come to agree. "I don't think there is a need or a place for political parties to be involved in student politics,' says the club's elections officer, Sean Kennedy. "It is really messy and in some ways unethical.'
Unfettered by rules and regulations, all other young Tory hopefuls on campus can keep pocketing their Millennium Funds in silence as visions of the Tory throne dance in their heads.