The Varsity (U of T), Jan. 15, 2004
By: Ian Ha
Tensions between a winning election campaign and the student council it seeks to replace has York University without an incoming student government and charges of vindictive political maneuvering sprouting like mushrooms – and has reopened the Israeli-Palestinian divide on campus.
The brouhaha surrounds the Nov. 27 election victory of Paul Cooper’s “depoliticization” campaign under the banner of Progress Not Politics (PNP) that managed to win 26 of 32 seats, including all four executive positions. But York’s Federation of Students (YFS) council has yet to ratify the results after allegations accusing Cooper of illegal overspending have dragged the process to an uncertain end.
“We have a power-corrupt council that’s not willing to listen to students,” asserts Cooper, who irked some council members by attempting to enter YFS offices last Monday.
YFS has made it clear it will go alone in resolving all post-election politics, charging York’s administration’s decision yesterday to accept the election results as “illegitimate,” “misguided” and “harmful”. Although dependent on a levy worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the university to pay their bills – which the university has withdrawn – YFS exists as a separate corporation and enjoys much legal freedom.
“These delays and appeals [by council] are all just part of a concerted effort to keep us from office,” said Yaakov Roth, Cooper’s campaign manager. “I think it’s motivated by political motives, and we’re not happy about it.” Many see this latest strife as another example of strained Israel-Palestinian politics on Toronto campuses. Cooper, president and founder of the Young Zionist Partnership, ran his Hillel-backed PNP platform on the promise of purging the YFS members he says were using YFS’s coffers to advance political agendas. YFS is known on campus for its anti-war and anti-FTAA stance.
Cooper acknowledges the opposition may be a result of his personal politics. “I think there’s an element my being a pro-Zionist activist,” he said. Although Cooper said the main issue is about power, he added that “it’s impossible to ignore that the pro- Palestinian” wing of the council is “refusing to recognize [the] pro-Israeli victors.” “We have not, as a council, taken any sides,” said VP of Equality and current executive council member Sandra Pierre. “We’re here to represent students, all students.”
She said the situation was not racially motivated. “This… [is not] an anti-Jewish thing. That is not the issue here. The issue has been about overspending.” That issue of overspending began when opponents of Cooper’s – Eric Joy-Henry, Pablo Vivanco and Jeff Granell – approached YFS several days before the vote saying Cooper had exceeded campaign spending limits; election rules cap spending at $400 on executive positions and $100 for all other council positions. Anyone caught overspending is disqualified. Cooper denies the allegations.
Specifically, Henry claims Cooper’s payment of $56 for his 8 ½ x 11 colour posters were not at “market price”. Henry approached the same printing company,
Continental Press, with Cooper’s same order and was quoted a price of $573 (before taxes). “In my estimation it far exceeds the $400 limit,” she says. Henry says her discovery was corroborated by Ryan Jarvis, York’s Chief Returning Officer, who is in charge of overseeing the elections.
To resolve the accusation, the matter was discussed for 10 hours at a Dec. 4 Elections Committee meeting together with council members. At the meeting, Cooper said he contacted Continental Press as far back as last May. When asked by Jarvis why he did not tell him about paying $56 for the prints earlier, Cooper responded by saying he had no obligation to do so. The Elections Committee, which is comprised of the YFS president, three council members, and one constituency member, voted the first weekend after Dec. 14 in Cooper’s favour – but only after committee member Heather Mountcourt resigned, saying she was intimidated.
In an unprecedented move, the council overturned the Elections Committee verdict on Dec. 15 and failed to ratify 23 candidates running on the PNP platform, including Cooper’s own spot as president.
“The council did that because there was concerns about the elections process,” says Pierre. “[Council] was concerned with the impartiality of the Elections Committee, and accusations of intimidation.” The council decided to move the process into an open hearing with council members – some of whom ran and lost against Cooper. “The very thought of being tried by the very people we beat is ridiculous,” said Roth.
It is not clear, however, whether the council is legally allowed to bypass the Elections Committee’s decision into an open hearing. Cooper’s lawyer, Edward Prutschi, argued to the council at the Dec. 15 meeting the YFS’s own by-laws prohibit such behaviour.
Add to this the conflict of interests of voting council members who ran for or against the PNP platform. Such issues prompted the Chair of the Elections Committee this week to seek legal advice before moving forward. Cooper said he may seek legal action if the results are not ratified in his favour.
In the meantime, the Elections Committee decided to put the Constituency Committee – a body made up of all nine York college presidents – in charge of deciding later this week on the overspending controversy. Council members say they will accept that decision unconditionally. “Hopefully, we’ll have a new executive by Monday,” said Pierre.