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York student president-elect denies wrongdoing

York student president-elect denies wrongdoing

The Canadian Jewish News, December 11, 2003

By: Frances Kraft, Staff Reporter

A nine-hour elections committee hearing was held last Thursday at York University after complaints about campaign spending by the Hillel-endorsed student government slate that swept the York Federation of Students (YFS) elections. The decision was expected to be released Monday afternoon, just after The CJN’s press time.

Paul Cooper headed the 31-member Progress Not Politics (PNP) slate, which won 27 seats, including all four executive positions. Results were announced two weeks ago, but are not official until they are ratified by the YFS council. Ratification is expected to take place Dec. 15 providing there are no outstanding complaints, according to Michael Novak, the current YFS president who Cooper would be replacing.

Cooper’s campaign was plagued by incidents, including the disqualification of a council candidate who slandered the PNP-slate – the first-ever student government to be endorsed by the university’s Hillel – at a solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights event. Three candidates filed complaints before the election was over, alleging that prices for Cooper’s campaign flyers and posters did not represent fair market value, based on their own costs and inquiries as well as on a candidates’ meeting that addressed the issue of fair market value.

“We worked hard to get the price we got,” said Cooper at the hearing. “What we did was not based on some special privilege. It was based on negotiating.” Candidates for executive positions were restricted to a maximum of $400 for their campaigns, while students running for councillors’ positions had a limit of $100. Cooper’s expenditures totalled $351.38, including $56 plus tax ($64.40) for 4000 brochures.

Cooper’s produced a letter from Jack Oziel, CEO of Continental Press, outlining seven cost-cutting measures that were used for the printing job. Among them, the paper used was “end-of-line stock of the lowest quality house brand.” Also, some fees were eliminated by using equipment that didn’t require film, by running the order with another job and by not “bundling” the order into smaller quantities.

Cooper also presented three quotes from other printing companies that were “still within the ballpark of what we paid.” The highest was $82.80 (including tax). He also said the salesperson at Continental, Judy Roth, was no relation to Ya’akov Roth, his campaign manager and main negotiator with the printing company. “The price given for the order as above would have been available to anyone attempting to make the same order at the same time,” wrote Oziel. Complainants Erica Joy-Henry, who also ran for president (she came in third) and Pablo Vivanco, who ran for vice-president academic, cited quotes as high as $520 just for flyers, but Edward Prutschi, legal counsel to Cooper’s slate, said they were comparing “apples and broccoli” because their specifications were not the same.

He said Cooper’s slate “did everything a smart election campaign should do to save costs and stay within the rules.” Prutschi also expressed serious reservations about the appropriateness of a YFS committee to determine the matter. The committee, four of whose five members were present, was chaired by Novak. It’s “inherently improper,” Prutschi told the CJN.

The YFS’ chief returning officer, Ryan Jarvis, to whom the complaints were made, said he didn’t believe the evidence was strong enough to remove PNP candidates from the election, but he believed the investigation was necessary. He also said during the hearing he didn’t believe there was a malicious intent on the part of Cooper or his slate. “They’ve done a pretty stand-up job.”

Toward the end of the day, after most of the evidence had been presented, Jarvis referred to the candidates’ meeting at which fair market value had been discussed. “We did mention that five cents was the norm for most photocopies…We didn’t think [a price as low as one cent] was viable, but maybe it is all of a sudden.” Cooper’s costs worked out to 1.6 cents per page. Cooper, who won the election by 139 votes, asked in his closing statement whether it would make sense – even if the committee rejects his evidence – to disqualify 19 candidates elected by clear majorities. “Would you run over the will of the very students who…have spoken loud and clear?”

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