A controversial California-based “self-help” group was enlisting new recruits at a major Conservative youth meeting last weekend, the Star has learned.
Landmark Education, the San Francisco organization descended from Werner Erhard’s 1970’s-era EST, held a 90-minute session as part of the Conservative Leadership Foundation conference. The foundation boasts connections to both provincial and federal Tory parties.
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory spoke at the event, but was not aware that organizers had also invited Landmark to do a presentation.
Landmark, which operates in 25 countries around the world and employs 450 people, emphasizes on its website that “dozens of psychiatrists, psychologists, clergy members, and other professionals … have concluded that Landmark’s programs are not psychological, cult-like, religious, or sociological in nature.”
“Mr. Tory attended the event, but did not organize it. The organization you refer to was not on the agenda that was presented to Mr. Tory’s staff,” said PC campaign spokesperson Ingrid Thompson.
“Had we known that they were going to be attending we would not have supported attending the event,” Thompson said yesterday.
“It’s ridiculous,” said one PC member, who expressed concern at the party entangling itself with Landmark.
“There were kids as young as 14 or 15 years old at this. Imagine you’re a parent who lets their son or daughter go off to what they assume is a political meeting and other organizations like this are participating,” said the veteran party activist.
The Conservative Leadership Foundation hosts the annual conference, which is organized by veteran strategist John Mykytyshyn.
Mykytyshyn, best known for being forced to resign from the Canadian Alliance executive in 2000 for saying Maritime residents “don’t want to work for a living, to go to where the jobs were, like all our ancestors did,” did not return calls seeking comment.
Young Tories paid $200 each to attend the weekend of training seminars at the Days Hotel and Conference Centre near Pearson International Airport.
According to a brochure for the meeting — featuring testimonials from Tory and federal Conservative campaign chair John Reynolds — the youths were schooled on “critical thinking, campaign management, team building, communications, media relations, polling, planning,” among other skills.
While Landmark officials in Toronto confirmed their participation at the event, they said media questions must be submitted in writing to a New York communications firm. There was no response to a written inquiry from the Star.