York spends $500,000 on consulting firms

YFS Pres: where did York get all this money?

The Ontario New Democratic Party counted York University among several Ontario universities allegedly spending public funds – almost $500,000 worth of York’s part – on lobbyists, hired private-sector advocates paid to sway provincial government policy.

According to York, however, that money was not spent on lobbying the government, but on consulting firms to help secure assets and information for future York projects.

In an Oct. 5 press release from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the Freedom of Information request filed by the NDP showed York spends more funds on private lobbying groups than any other university in the province.

A statement released by York Oct. 6, the university had contracts with three companies registered as lobby groups – the Counsel Public Affairs (CPA), the Devon Group and EcoNexus – but hired them as consultants, not lobbyists.

Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, said York hired these firms as consultants because York didn’t have the resources or staff to head these projects.

Krisna Saravanamuttu, president of the York Federation of Students (YFS), said of the money spent on consultants that, since the CUPE 3903 strike, which shut down the university during the 2008-2009 academic year for almost three months, “York has been crying poor.”

“Where in the world did York find almost $500,000 to fund these lobby groups, when really lobbying is the job of the senior administrators and a properly composed Board of Govenors?” he said.

Bilyk said that the university has a budget to hire consultants and that York did not go over that budget.

“Perhaps Saravanamuttu has not read [York’s Oct. 6] statement and maybe he does not understand how the university works,” said Bilyk.

According to York, from January to June 2010 The Devon Group provided strategic counsel and guidance for additional venues for the upcoming Pan Am Games 2015, which resulted in the letter of intent York offered event organizers regarding the university’s willingness to host some of the activities.

The statement further explains that from February 2008 to January 2009, the university worked with the CPA in looking at potentially establishing a medical school at York. Bilyk said CPA helped York put together a business plan for the York medial school.

The York statement also said that CPA assisted with labour relations during that time.

York hired EcoNexus from 2008 to 2010 to focus on creating a research project on climate change and environmental research. The York statement also said that project lead Karan Kraft Sloan is a registered federal lobbyist; however, in this instance, she was not lobbying the government.

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