YFS election process raises concerns

Toronto’s major dailies and Jewish newspapers have taken an interest in York’s recent student elections. On Jan. 8, the headline in the Toronto Star was “Student groups battle for control” while the National Post said, “York election leaves council in ‘chaos’.” The Canadian Jewish News (CJN) and the Jewish Tribune have also followed the story.

As the newspapers reported, the York Federation of Students held an election on Nov. 27. A group of students running on a platform of “Progress Not Politics” (PNP) won 26 of 32 seats, including four executive positions. They campaigned on a promise to focus on student issues such as parking, security and tuition, rather than debating conflicts in the Middle East. A week after the election, three losing candidates complained to the chief election officer that their PNP opponents had exceeded campaign-spending limits.

Though a Dec. 4 hearing cleared the PNP candidates of wrongdoing, the YFS overturned the acquittal and delayed ratification of the PNP slate at its Dec.15 meeting, reported the newspapers. Bonnie Neuman, vice-president students and alumni, sent a letter Dec. 18 to outgoing YFS president Mike Novak expressing concern over the non-ratification and called for a democratic, orderly transition of student government. If the student council did not ratify by Jan. 9, she warned, the university would assume financial trusteeship and withhold new money to the student council.

“Until I feel the whole thing has been resolved satisfactorily – and we do have orderly and democratic change – I’ll exercise that fiduciary control and take over,” Neuman told the Star. Earlier, she told CJN: “Although student governments are autonomous, we have a role in terms of their constitutions and fiduciary matters to ensure they follow through on the constitutions and proceed in a democratic and orderly basis. They do need to ratify at the next meeting, or my role as provost is to step in.”

York’s administration has been “excellent,” Talia Klein, director of Hillel at York, told CJN. “They have really taken the issue seriously and are doing everything in their power to help out and make sure students’ democratic rights actually prevail.” 

Shalom-Salam: new group on campus fosters dialogue

The Canadian Jewish News highlighted a new group at York that aims to foster civilized dialogue between Jews and Arabs on campus. The group, Shalom-Salam, now has almost 100 members, reported CJN in its Jan. 8 issue. Shalom-Salam was founded after Hina Kahn and Miriam Yosowich met last year in a class taught by political science professor Saeed Rahnema called “War and Peace in the Middle East.” Rahnema encouraged the two women to work together because of their different perspectives, reported CJN. Iranian-born Rahnema explained that the students are working hard to find common ground. In the process, they also learn lessons about real negotiation. “For war, you don’t need agreements. If you really want to work towards peace, you need to dialogue with the other side,” Rahnema said. According to Shalom-Salam’s brochures, the group’s mission is to “create, facilitate and promote an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance as well as peaceful co-existence between Jewish/Israeli and Arab/Palestinian students within the York community.”

Poultry more deadly

In a Jan. 8 letter to the Toronto Star, retired York economics professor Vernon Yorgason wrote: “As a grandson of Alberta pioneers who pushed cattle from Texas up the Calgary trail, as the son of an Alberta cattle producer, and as a former senior livestock economist with both the governments of Canada and Ontario, I am not surprised that mad cow found in an American dairy cattle herd was born in Canada. Our livestock herds have been integrated for over a hundred years. I am, however, surprised at the response, both on the part of Americans, and their customers. Worldwide, fewer than 50 people have died from this problem; none either in Canada or the US. Yet, by comparison, uncounted thousands sicken and die from American and Canadian poultry products contaminated with salmonella each year.”

On air

  • Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed whether a rising Canadian dollar will affect cross-border shopping, on Global TV news programs in Ontario and Alberta and City-tv’s “Morning Edition” aired in Edmonton, Jan.7.
  • Leo Panitch, distinguished research professor at York and Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy, participated in a panel discussion on CBC Newsworld’s “CounterSpin” Jan.7. Topics included where George Bush is taking his war on terror in the coming year, whether control over oil resources is shaping US foreign policy, the potential of Canada to become closer to the US even to the point of military and economic integration, and how elections in Canada and the US determine those countries’ foreign policies.