Penalties, controversies, and calls for CEO resignation cause tension during campaign
Patricia-Joy Crosby | Fulcrum Staff
Photo by Mathias MacPhee
Student elections are not without their excitement and have a history of high tensions between election officials and candidates.
The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) election committee announced on Feb. 5 that affiliation titles will be included on the ballots next to candidates’ names, if applicable.
Election candidates from the Together Ensemble affiliation have expressed disappointment with this new inclusion because it could change the dynamic of the campaign and affect election results. They argue that the ruling is unconstitutional, as the SFUO constitution states in section 4.7.2 that “candidates shall appear on the ballot individually.”
This news comes at the same time as allegations of favouritism toward candidates from the Student Action affiliation by SFUO elections CEO Osama Berrada, as well as calls for him to resign by La Rotonde and the Political, International, and Development Studies Student Association.
The elections have been surrounded by controversy since day one, when unlike in previous years, volunteers were not required to wear nametags while putting up posters and banners on “super Sunday,” the first day of the campaign. This made it unclear who was a volunteer and who was not, leading to allegations that certain volunteers had a head start on gaining key banner positions.
Troubles for the Together Ensemble affiliation first occurred when its candidates were required to take down their personal websites because they were put online too early. The affiliation was subsequently required to take down its group website because it was allegedly not fully bilingual, after an appeal was made against Berrada stating that the original penalty was not harsh enough.
Geoff Parent, SFUO presidential candidate with the Together Ensemble affiliation, stated in an email that the original infraction was received for pre-campaigning.
“We had not launched our websites, but forgot to remove the labels that appear on the tabs at the top of your browser indicating our names and positions sought,” he said.
Normally the removal of posters is the first step when distributing penalties. Neither the SFUO constitution nor the elections rules mentions the removal of websites in the infractions section.
Further penalties occurred Sunday when Together Ensemble had its handbill limit reduced by 25 per cent due to an error by the resource centre when they accidentally posted the affiliation’s posters on non-main floors of Hyman Soloway, violating election rules.
Elliott Lockington, team leader for Together Ensemble, responded to the original warning in emails obtained by the Fulcrum.
“I have now removed [the posters],” he wrote. “I am sorry for the inconvenience that was caused by the Resource Centre not following their own directives and posting larger posters on the floors that I did not request.”
Berrada responded the next day with the limit on Together Ensemble’s handbills.
“There has been a revision to the warning that was previously issued on the basis that the outcome of [the] election would have indeed been compromised with these posters up at the residences,” he wrote. “It is every candidate’s responsibility to ensure that all materials are in accordance with the electoral rules; the absence of intention does not alter the fact that a major posting violation in residence occurred.”
In an interview with the Fulcrum, Lockington acknowledged the fact that the affiliation “has no right to canvas or campaign in people’s homes,” but criticized Berrada’s handling of the matter.
“That’s ridiculous that in order to follow the rule, we have to break another rule and have a presence in residence,” he said.
Though both affiliations’ websites are now live, candidates remain split on the new issue regarding the ballots. It is still unclear when the decision was made to put affiliation titles on the ballot, though it was communicated to all candidates in an email on Feb. 5.
In an email to the Fulcrum, Berrada clarified that it was indeed him who had made the decision to put affiliations on the ballot and denied that it was unconstitutional.
“As with all elections logistics, this was decided by myself as CEO,” he wrote. “The constitution/electoral rules remain the same: candidates will continue to appear individually on the ballots and their affiliations will be indicated next to their names.”
Maddy Orr, vp equity candidate with Together Ensemble, commented on the decision.
“This is new, and it’s surprising,” she said. “It’s unprecedented.”
However, David Eaton, the Student Action candidate for vp finance, didn’t find the decision surprising at all.
“I assumed because teams were allowed in the rules that this was expected,” he said. “On the forms it asks for a team name. I assumed there would be a team name in the voting process.”
The move was allegedly put in place to make it easier for students to follow the election and because it would reflect the system used by Elections Canada, which incorporates party names and affiliations on the ballot.
Orr said the Together Ensemble affiliation is “very disappointed” with the situation.
“It creates a party system on campus, and what we’re trying to avoid is people voting for a slate or a group just because they recognize the group name or a party platform, instead of for individual candidates who would be the best individual person to fill that position,” she said.
Anne-Marie Roy, presidential candidate with Student Action, argued the move would not create a party system and that after the election, all candidates would work together for what was best for students.
“This is great that we are running on affiliations, but we should not be acting like a party,” she said. “This is not the House of Commons where there’s a majority and everyone’s voting together.”
Chris Clarke, an independent candidate for vp university affairs, said the decision “contradicts the spirit of the SFUO.
“This decision makes it infinitely more difficult for independent candidates to be given equal opportunity when running for a position within the SFUO,” said Clarke.
Eaton dismissed the notion that the change would detract from individual candidates’ chances and reaffirmed his faith in the election committee.
“It is hard to say whether this would detract from independents—it could have a reverse effect as well,” said Eaton. “Ultimately it will be about the ideas, and people will choose the right person dependant on that.
“As a candidate, I have to assume that the people elected to the [election] committee are taking things seriously.”
Roy also doesn’t believe the move will take away from individual candidates.
“Independent candidates still have a place on this campus,” she said. “Perfect example is [current vp student affairs] Kate Hudson, who ran alone and beat a candidate who was on an affiliation.”
Clarke worries this decision will negatively change the way elections are run in the future.
“This decision opens the door to outside organizations dictating the agenda of our student government by financing, organizing, and mobilizing a political party that is favourable to their cause,” he said.
The SFUO website has also been experiencing problems: certain candidates have disappeared from the site for hours at a time, photos of many Board of Administration candidates were missing until recently, and the site was unilingual in French for a short period.
This is not the first instance of problems with SFUO election campaigns. In 2010, online voting caused such complications and fraud allegations ran so high that the same company that runs the U.S. elections refused to work with the SFUO again. In 2011, vp finance candidate Tristan Dénommée was disqualified following his win and the losing candidate was declared the winner, which brought about the Clean Democracy movement and the takeover of the SFUO offices by students for an entire day.
—with files from Christopher Radojewski