Conservatives accused of meddling in York U election - Macleans.ca

Conservatives accused of meddling in York U election

Students’ union says school received “persistent inquiries” about controversial vote

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In yet another twist of York University’s fraught politics, the school’s student union is accusing two Conservative politicians — one federal, one provincial — of meddling in the union’s electoral process.

According to the York Federation of Students, 50 pages of e-mails obtained through a Freedom of Information request prove that federal MP Peter Kent and provincial MPP Peter Shurman tried to interfere with the group’s spring 2009 general elections.

During the controversial election, amid claims of voting irregularities from the losing slate, a more left-wing, pro-Palestinian group of students politicians beat out a more conservative, pro-Israel group. On appeal, the electoral board upheld the vote.

It was this appeal that prompted Kent and Shurman to send the e-mails, which both the YFS and the CFS say were inappropriate. According to the YFS, the e-mails reveal “persistent inquires” on behalf of the politicians into the election. This is, says the group, “part of a growing body of evidence that the federal and provincial Conservative parties are attempting to undermine democratic student decision-making.”

The group also alleges that Robert Tiffin, York’s vice-president of students, warned the group not to disqualify candidates who were caught violating the elections rules because the school and members of parliament “were watching the election closely.”

“The student elections were run in a fair and democratic manner and in accordance with our bylaws,” said Krisna Saravanamuttu, YFS president, in a press release issued Monday morning. “The York administration and members of the Conservative Party have no right or authority to interfere in the elections of the students’ union simply because they disagree with student criticisms of their policies.”

However, Kent and Shurman told The Star’s Louise Brown that the allegations are absolute nonsense. The two insist they were merely seeking updates on behalf of their north Toronto constituents, many of whom are Jewish students who were concerned about growing anti-Semitism at the school.

Tiffin says the university treated the politicians’ e-mails as requests for information, not as political pressure. He says the school has no intention of reopening the vote, although he is encouraging the YFS to participate in a review of the school’s election processes by an external accounting firm.