Concerns raised beyond bylaw violations in BUSU election

Vice President External candidates Julea Stoneman-Sinclair (left) and Jenna Clinton (right) at the BUSU debate on March 4, 2013. (Brady Knight / The Quill)

Further frustration is brewing among all students involved in the BUSU elections. The Quill had originally reported that controversy had been created by bylaw violations caused by Returning Officer Derek Booth, which, after further information surfaced Monday evening and Tuesday morning, was proven not to be the sole reason for the controversy.


Last week, Booth postponed the beginning of the election campaign by a day and extended the election period, which violated bylaw 1040, which states, “Campaigning shall last for 12 consecutive days, starting at 8:00 Hours on the first Monday after Reading Week, continuing through the next weekend, and ending at the close of polling on the final day of voting” (The Bylaws of the Brandon University Students’ Union, April 2012).  His decision gave candidates a total of twenty-one days to campaign, beginning on February 26th.  Additionally, Booth reconsidered his previous decision to prohibit off-campus voting.  His original decision was a potential violation of bylaws which imply strongly that all fee-paying members of BUSU must be able to vote, which was the reason for his reversal (which did not in itself violate any bylaws).  There were also questions raised regarding the manner in which one potential slate’s legality was addressed, with some sources claiming that forms were improperly filed, and others claiming that Booth had ‘dismantled’ the slate.

“I am not entirely sure as to why he [made] the decisions he has made,” one source, who declined to be named, stated. “I could suspect that someone may have influenced his decisions in some form or another, because at first he approved the executive and commissioner slate, and then later said that he no longer would permit it. It’s a little sketchy.”

On the other hand, Residence Assistant Melanie Sutherland said that electoral turbulence began long before Booth chose to extend the election period and divide the (technically-unofficial) executive-commissioner slates. Sutherland initially became involved in the election due to “controversial issues regarding the returning officer,” where she said that Booth was reportedly the brunt of “lots of attacks personally from many of the candidates,” clarifying further that they began before the start of the campaign period.

“As soon as the first candidates meeting was happening, people were frustrated,” said Sutherland. “It was a very high-stakes, tense time so people started saying and doing things I don’t think they would [be] proud of. A lot of the candidates weren’t acting in a professional manner, in my personal opinion, and as that progresses, it gets nastier and nastier. So the violations of the bylaws that occurred only added fuel to the fire.”

The first source of frustration for candidates, according to Sutherland, was Raymond Thomson’s position on the Elections and Referenda Discipline, Interpretation and Enforcement (ERDIE) committee, where he was responsible for supervising the RO. Given Thomson’s relationship with presidential candidate Stephanie Bachewich, a conflict arose and he eventually stepped down.

“I think as soon as they realized it was going to be a contentious issue, I would have appreciated it, as a student, if [Thomson] would have removed himself from the situation because by being there he put Derek in a rough position,” admitted Sutherland. “Even if he didn’t mean to give him poor advice, the advice that he gave him—you have to be especially careful when you’re in that precarious of a situation.”

Current BUSU Vice President External Suz Duff replaced Thomson before the campaign period began, which prompted Booth to prolong the election in order to allow for an unbiased ERDIE board to oversee the process and prevent further violation of bylaws. Duff assists Booth in duties like signing off on campaign material and reading bylaws, as Booth is a student who is not experienced in this field nor officially trained for the position.  In fact, all that is necessary to take the position is to apply, and Sutherland argues that this puts the Returning Officer in an extremely difficult position.

“There should be experience, there should be someone who’s not a student, and really, I don’t think it’s a one-person job,” argued Sutherland. “Especially now, when there are contentious decisions made, they’re put on one person’s shoulders and that’s a lot of pressure for someone who’s never had that experience or training. They’re doing the best they can, but honest mistakes will happen.”

Matthew May, the uncontested candidate for Vice President Internal who is campaigning with the “Just Students Matter” slate, admitted Booth made some mistakes, but commends him for his overall performance.

“I know that some decisions made by the RO, Derek Booth, have been met with frustration by many of the candidates, and while I will admit to being troubled with some of them, I want to point out that Derek is taking as many steps as is necessary to keep this election on track, and I feel this is not being appreciated.”

Booth himself commented on the situation, saying, “Due to inexperience with this position and without having an appointed point person for guidance, I unintentionally broke the bylaws with a ruling that I felt pressured to make. When realizing I had made a mistake, I made a good faith effort to fix these errors. The ruling I made to fix these errors was in accordance to bylaw 1050 article 1, which states that: ‘The RO is empowered to investigate and rule upon any breach of the election rules, whether submitted to the RO in complaint or initiated by the RO.’”

Sutherland cited ambiguous bylaws as a primary cause of the political mess which has ensued. She says they are “worded poorly” and that they leave ample space for candidates to create their own interpretations. “The RO’s duty is not to break the bylaws, it’s to uphold them, but when you get to a precarious situation like this, he’s got to make his best judgement call,” said Sutherland.

Consistently supporting the RO’s decisions despite complaints issued by candidates, Disability Commissioner Kris Keen and current Vice President External Suz Duff, in conjunction with the ERDIE committee, issued this statement:

“The ERDIE board functions as a board of appeal for any complaints or irregularities that come up in the election campaign, particularly if the parties concerned do not feel that their concerns have been satisfied by the Returning Officer. There was a problem with how the addition of candidates to one of the slates was handled, i.e., that they were being added after the regular nomination period. This is a serious problem, as then students are not properly informed about the slates they are nominating, and eventually, voting for. If the executive and commissioner slates had been combined in one ‘mega-slate’ prior to the end of the nomination period, so students could lend their voices properly, that would have been acceptable.

“In regards to the vote rendered supporting the actions of the RO, the bylaws clearly state that the RO has the ability to rule on any breaches or oversights regarding election bylaw in order to establish and maintain fair elections. This includes his own, which he was pressured into, partly because, unfortunately, the BUSU executive had not given him a clear ‘point person’ to direct inquiries or problems he might have to. The ERDIE board have now appointed Suz Duff to be that person, should he have any bylaw-related questions. His decision reflected a good-faith effort to do what was right and fix the error he had made. While the decision may be somewhat inconvenient for candidates, it does not unfairly disadvantage or benefit either of the candidates and helps to re-establish fair conditions in which to conduct the democratic process.

“The ERDIE board made our decision in good faith towards all parties, wishing to maintain neutrality and in the interests of resolving the issue both quickly and fairly. The Board feels that we made the best decision we could with the situation we were put into, and we encourage people to not unfairly criticize the RO or ERDIE for making an effort to ensure the continued fairness of the election. It is one thing, of course, to disagree with the ruling made or with the powers allocated to either the RO or the ERDIE committee, but as the ERDIE board followed the BUSU election by-laws, our decisions as they stand are both final and binding.”

Also defending Booth’s decision to divide the executive-commissioner slate (which had not officially been formed, contrary to our previous incorrect report), Sutherland believed the group had indirectly “decided their council already.” As the group would then be comprised of the bulk of the council that was to be voted on, the scenario could create a negative environment and provide a sense of exclusion for individuals who are voted into BUSU and are not on the theoretical super-slate. With all candidates focused on teamwork, the executive-commissioner slate would be contradictory to each slate’s objectives.

“I believe that this ruling makes the campaign fair for all candidates,” concluded Booth in his statement. “With a point person who has now been appointed to guide me through the bylaws and the election process, I will continue to make the campaign as fair as possible.”

As if the election couldn’t get more heated, Sutherland suggested that she had seen intimidation tactics seen at the BUSU debate on March 4th, and stated that she was less than impressed with some candidates.

“Not everybody, but some candidates, are absolutely trying to slant the process in their direction, and when Derek doesn’t yield to their intimidation tactics, they make a big fuss about it. […] I think it’s very telling the way people behave under pressure, and I’m not sure I like what I’ve seen from some of the candidates. […] In my five years at BU, this is the most disappointing election process, not because of the Returning Officer, but because of the candidates involved.”

With a little under two weeks left in the election campaign, May and his colleagues Presidential candidate Stephanie Bachewich and Vice President External candidate Julia Stoneman-Sinclair are determined to keep their focus on students.

“We all feel that BUSU should be an organization based on helping the BU student body, not spending a large amount of time dealing with inner politics,” said May, “which unfortunately is transpiring in this election, and are not at all necessary and in my opinion, could be avoided. If everyone running in this election came in with the mentality of doing the best for the students, rather than doing the best for themselves, this election would run much more smoothly. This is not to say that some candidates are not doing this intentionally, but in the heat of the politics, it is easy to lose sight of what they are here for.”

Current BUSU President Carissa Taylor is likewise maintaining her campaign goals as she campaigns to keep her position.

“It is unfortunate that decisions have been made by the Returning Officer and the ERDIE committee that I believe compromises the integrity of our organization. Both Jenna and myself will continue to campaign in a way that is positive and professional. Students will have the opportunity to vote and to choose the candidate they believe will best represent them. If that is me, I will be extremely grateful, and if not I can know that I ran my campaign in the best way that I knew how to.”

“I would hope that people running in an election like this would be as professional and positive as possible,” said Sutherland, “because, really, if everyone has the best interest of the students at heart, it shouldn’t matter who wins.”