Levy on lobbying

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By Miranda Scotland

While the Ontario’s Liberal government wants to put a stop to university spending on lobbyists, Ryerson is planning to continue as long as it can, according to Ryerson president Sheldon Levy.

Ryerson spent “under $100,000” on lobbyists last year and plans to continue using funds that way when needed.

But, in a few weeks, Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews will propose a bill banning the use of public money for private lobbying, said Ivan Langrish, her press secretary.

The university would have to find alternatives if the bill is passed, according to Levy.

“Whatever the law is the university would obviously follow it,” said Levy. “I think we would end up doing the work in house which probably could very well cost us.”

The news comes after a Freedom of Information request filed by the NDP revealed that nine universities and colleges have collectively spent nearly $1 million on hiring lobbyists to deal with the Ontario government.

“Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to lobby for more taxpayer dollars,” said Langrish, adding there is no apparent reason for universities to hire lobbyists. “If they need to speak to us about funding issues they can do it directly.”

“All universities are part of the Council of Ontario Universities that they pay hundreds of thousand of dollars to, to lobby on their behalf,” said Joel Duff of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. “Why then are they hiring private firms to do additional lobbying outside of that?”

Documents released by the NDP show that Laurentian University had a lobby contract worth $102,000 while York University had three contracts totalling almost $500,000 and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology had a contract worth up to $130,000.

“We’re not saying the whole entire lobbying industry needs to be shut down in this province, but when it comes to public dollars should be spent on frontline services,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

“It’s apparent the quality of post-secondary education is in decline,” said NDP Education Critic Rosario Marchese, adding that it is a clear indication that universities are in trouble with student debt increasing and class sizes growing.

On the other hand, Ryerson student Christy Whitby thinks lobbyists may be a good use of university funds.

“I don’t know if student voices are enough,” the third-year nursing student said thinking back to the campaign where students sent postcards to the government calling for more affordable education.

Whitby said she thinks lobbyists could make things happen.

“I would hope they would get more money,” she said. “The idea of getting more money for school… that’s positive for me.”

But lobbying the government may not be an option for universities for much longer.

The NDP “will continue to pressure the government,” said Marchese, until a bill is passed banning the practice.

Photo: Marta Iwanek

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