In April of 2009, democratic reform minister, Steven Fletcher, appeared at the University of Manitoba to discuss the initiatives of his government.
Though sponsored by the Campus Conservatives, his talk was open to all students and was well attended.
However, much to the surprise of the crowd, he spent very little time on democratic reform, but instead attacked the university's student union and the school newspaper.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported on the incident as students at the University demanded an apology. Fletcher told the paper, "I think Conservative values are student values," Fletcher said. "I was there to speak about the Conservative party and the role Conservatives play on campus. I wasn't asked to be there in a general way." (2)
On Thursday, March 19, the University of Manitoba Campus Conservatives held an open event that was advertised to the public as a talk at the University of Manitoba with the Honourable Steven Fletcher, minister of state (democratic reform). The event was attended by both minister Fletcher and sitting MP for Winnipeg South, Rod Bruinooge. I attended this event in the hopes of hearing about Fletcher’s new mandate on the government of Canada’s opinion on state, and more importantly on democratic reform. Was I ever mistaken.Although towards the end of the forum, Fletcher did answer a select few pre-determined questions actually regarding Canadian democratic reform, the event did not focus on democratic reform as the posters advertised, but rather focused almost entirely on student union politics.
Steven Fletcher sat as UMSU president at the end of the 1990s for two consecutive terms, so clearly, he’s no stranger to the politics on university campuses. But as a representative of the constituents of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia and as sitting minister for the government of Canada, especially the minister of democratic reform, he has no business in the affairs of independent and democratic students’ unions and federations.
Minister Fletcher, on several occasions, went into rants where he referred to UMSU and the Canadian Federation of Students, my representatives, as a bunch of left-wing crazies, the “loony left,” and “loony tunes.” The minister further went into rants about the free press and independent students’ newspapers referring to the Manitoban as a socialist rag. He then began encouraging young Conservative members to take over students’ unions to promote the Conservative ideology. At several points in his talk, incoming UMSU president-elect Sid Rashid, who was also in the audience, challenged Fletcher on his clearly biased statements regarding current UMSU policies and procedures.
What is the government doing meddling in the affairs of independent and democratic student unions? This is not only offensive but completely inappropriate. ... The recent event held at the University of Manitoba further adds to the damning evidence that the Conservative Party, the current governing party of Canada, is engaged in a national campaign to advance their partisan agenda and undermine the role of democratic student organizations. (1)
But this was just part of a trend as members of the Harper government have been encouraging conservative students to take over student unions, infiltrate clubs, and establish front groups to further their cause. This again coincides with Morton Blackwell's Campus Leadership Program which has been mimicked by the Manning Centre's Campus Leadership Training Program.
Blackwell's institute has launched a website, billed as:
“CampusReform.org will dramatically increase the number of battles fought against leftist abuses on college campuses this year,” said Morton Blackwell, Leadership Institute founder and president. “And based on long experience, conservative students will win most of those new battles as they identify, expose, and combat leftist abuses and bias.” “CampusReform.org will dramatically increase the number of battles fought against leftist abuses on college campuses this year,” said Morton Blackwell, Leadership Institute founder and president. “And based on long experience, conservative students will win most of those new battles as they identify, expose, and combat leftist abuses and bias.” (3)And if you want some idea of what that means, combating "leftist abuses and bias", when University of Manitoba students were engaged in their annual day of protest, with the Target Poverty campaign, campus Conservatives, under the direction of provincial conservative MLA, Hugh McFadyen, did whatever they could to stop the event, even forming a human chain to prevent their progress toward the legislature. They were clearly hoping for a physical confrontation.
Nov. 5 was another student Day of Action in Manitoba. This one was important because it linked issues facing students directly to broader societal concerns with the Target Poverty campaign, as well as linking up the organizations representing students with a broad cross-section of anti-poverty activists and civil society organizations in Manitoba. It’s a new tactic, and it really opens the door to building broad coalitions of activists, student unions, and other civil society organizations to confront the neoliberal* policies which have affected us all over the past couple decades. I would say that it was moderate success, in that new ground was broken and new spaces for resistance were opened up for people from diverse political backgrounds to unite and fight for a better world."An army of pinkos?" I must admit, I haven't hurt that one in a while.
But, the latest Day of Action also featured the sorry spectacle of Hugh McFadyen and the University of Manitoba Campus Conservatives “teaming up”, presumably against students rallying against poverty. Or, as the Campus Conservatives called them on their website, a “army of pinkos”. (4)
Apparently the Conservative Party has also been funding student elections and interfering with the democratic process on campus.
... the next big push by the University of Manitoba Campus Conservatives (UMCC)–who are well connected and appear to be well funded–will be to get partisans elected in 201o at the Students’ Union. The UMCC connections reach right to the Federal government via high profile alumni such as Steven Fletcher, current Minister for Democratic Renewal and former Manitoba Students’ Union president. (5)Well if it means getting rid of "pinkos" who are fighting against poverty, I suppose it's a noble cause.
*Neoliberalism is also referred to as neoconservatism.
1. The True Hidden Agenda: Steven Fletcher's Recent Talk on Campus, By David Safruk, University of Manitoba, The Manitoban, April 5, 2009
2. MP Fletcher's talk stirs campus storm: Cabinet minister rejects apology demand, By: Mia Rabson, Winnepeg Free Pres, April 18, 2009
3. CampusReform.org launches TODAY! By Tabitha Hale, Leadership Institute, September 15, 2009
4. A look at Campus Conservatives in Manitoba, By Brian Latour, Canadian Dimension, November 15th 2009
5. Conservatives poised to make a move at University of Manitoba? Campus Conservative Watch, November 16, 2009