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Carleton U ordered to explain blackout on $15 M donation to politics school

Preston Manning watches federal election results in Calgary, on Jan. 23, 2006. Carleton University is withholding key information about a $15-million donation that created a school backed by Preston Manning. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA - Carleton University is withholding key information about a $15-million donation that created a school backed by Preston Manning — and an adjudicator has ordered an explanation by Tuesday.

The university's request for a nine-week extension — the latest in a year-long battle over a freedom-of-information request — was rejected by the information and privacy commissoner of Ontario.

The Clayton H. Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management was launched in October 2010 to much fanfare, with Reform party founder Manning — and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy — front and centre.

"Raising the bar of democratic governance requires talented individuals who possess not only a good appreciation of political theory but a highly developed understanding of its practical application," Manning said at the time.

The program, according to Manning and the university administration, was founded thanks to a $15-million donation from Calgary businessman Clayton Riddell.

Its first students were enrolled last September.

But when The Canadian Press requested a copy of the donor agreement under Ontario's freedom-of-information law last summer, Carleton University issued a blanket refusal.

In denying the request, the university cited invasion of privacy, third-party information and the school's economic interests regarding future fundraising.

Following mediation ordered by the information commissioner's office, Carleton released a heavily redacted copy of the donor agreement in March.

The agreement says Carleton University will operate the program, "including securing the necessary provincial government approvals and funding commitments, and subject to the conditions set forth in this agreement."

Those conditions are then blacked out, including sections under "Naming considerations" and "Administration."

The university also released an appendix — essentially a brochure touting the program's merits, complete with testimonials from conservatives such as Cliff Fryers, Thompson MacDonald and Chris McCluskey, and former New Democrat MP Bill Knight — that included several redacted pages and sections.

Under the page heading "An invitation to transform Canadian politics," for instance, all but two short paragraphs are blacked out.

Private funding of programs and schools within public universities has become a flashpoint for arguments over academic freedom, corporate control and public policy manipulation.

More than 200 professors at York University in Toronto signed a letter in March requesting the university stop a deal with a think-tank funded by former BlackBerry magnate Jim Balsillie until academic safeguards could be negotiated.

The letter stated that a proposed agreement with the Centre for International Governance Innovation to fund 10 research chairs allowed "unprecedented influence over the university's academic affairs."

In April, the Canadian Association of University Teachers warned it would launch a boycott this fall if two universities in Waterloo, Ont. — Wilfrid Laurier and the University of Waterloo — don't "amend the governance structure for the Balsillie School of International Affairs so that academic integrity is ensured."

And last September, Postmedia News prevailed in a three-year freedom-of-information fight with the University of Calgary over the release of funding details on two charitable-status trust accounts used by climate-change skeptics.

The documents revealed that the university received $175,000 from Talisman Energy for a pubic relations and lobbying campaign against government programs to restrict fossil fuel consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The University of Calgary subsequently issued a statement acknowledging "that there was insufficient management and governance oversight" and announcing new internal controls.

Carleton University's pitch to donors for its fledgling political management program states it will "impact the political culture of this country."

"By taking custody of the education of people who will go on to make decisions of political consequence, the Clayton H. Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management will be of profound service to the nation," says the released appendix.

Required courses include institutions and government, strategic communications and political management, with electives such as polling, political campaigning, media management and political marketing.

Managing freedom-of-information law is not specifically mentioned in the redacted version released to The Canadian Press, but ethics are.

The program does not include a separate ethics course, states the appendix. "Rather, we intend that ethics will be woven into the content of the degree at every turn as a governing concern."

In a letter to the university's lawyers dated June 4, an adjudicator with the information and privacy commissioner of Ontario says "providing the party resisting disclosure nine weeks to respond to the Notice of Inquiry is not justifiable," and set a due date of June 19, three weeks beyond the initial deadline.

The case is not likely to be resolved until fall.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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