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By John Shmuel

Mention the name Bob Rae to President Sheldon Levy and he’ll smile, chuckle and say they’ve known each other for more than 30 years. But ask Levy how close he is to the Liberal party, and he suddenly has nothing to say at all.

While Levy is not a member of the Liberal party and has had friendly meetings with Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and provincial Progressive Conservative party leader John Tory, Ryerson’s head honcho and the Liberals have both benefited from a relationship that has lasted a decade.

“In this job you got to work with any colour government,” Levy said. “You can’t be seen as a particular supporter of any government.”

Hugh P. Gunz, a professor of professional ethics at the University of Toronto, said it is critical for universities to have somebody who can work well with government.

“If you don’t have these types of people that can talk comfortably with levels of government, you’re going to start losing out big time,” he said. But as the wheels turn on the Master Plan, Levy will need to put more pressure on the provincial government for help. And so far, it’s working. Last February, Premier Dalton Mc- Guinty announced a $45-million cash injection into the school’s Master Plan. A month prior, the province gave Ryerson a $40-million grant to help finance the purchase of the former Future Shop property, Church Street parking lot and the Sam’s site.

The trend of Liberal handouts extends well past this year. In October 2007, local Liberal MPP George Smitherman hinted Ryerson may receive the province’s newly acquired Sears building and parking lot, on which Levy has said he will build a new athletics complex.

And Ryerson’s gratitude to the Liberals is no state secret. In February, the university spent $92,000 on full-page ads in Toronto newspapers thanking the McGuinty Liberals for the funding. Levy denies any personal financial connections to the Liberals, but according to the Elections Canada website, Levy donated $350 to Bob Rae’s Liberal by-election campaign in Toronto Centre.

He also said he has attended functions held by other political parties, but would not specify which ones. “I’d rather keep that to myself,” he said. Since becoming president in 2005, Levy has also hired two former Liberal party employees to key positions within the university. Julia Hanigsberg, Ryerson’s general counsel, and Erin McGinn, director of the president’s office, are both former Liberal party employees.

Levy maintains both women were hired based on merit. “I think the university was extremely lucky to both attract [Julia] and benefited greatly by her talents. Same with Erin.”

And while the optics seem less than stellar, Gunz said universities generally have specified methods for hiring people.

“These are always ticklish things aren’t they?” he said.

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