February 9, 2007

MSU Presidential Results and the so-called OUSA Referendum

Thanks to Jackson “Action” Weigman for getting the results up: Ryan Moran wins the MSU Presidential Election
Tyler Andrews: 991
Jax Cavalheiro: 741
Emery Finkelstein: 341
Badar Malik: 580
Drew Mitchell: 430
Ryan Moran: 1777
Spoiled: 193
Abstain: 677
My semi-commentary is here: http://www.thesil.ca/article.pl?sid=07/02/09/1956226&mode=thread
(Semi because it had to go to print before the results were announced.)
Of note, I wrote it after being awake for 28 hours.

JOEY COLEMAN SILHOUETTE STAFF
The votes were cast, the ballots were counted, and now the meaning will be debated.
First off, let’s get the so-called “referendum” out of the way. What an insult to all of us. The MSU now praises itself for letting us vote on our OUSA membership and points to this as a shining example of a new commitment to student democracy. This was not a referendum. A referendum involves casting a ballot that results in some consequence or change. The MSU clearly stated the vote “does not challenge our current status in OUSA.” So what does our vote do? Nothing! For a bunch of people who talked all election about saving the environment, they sure did not mind cutting down trees and wasting paper on this so-called referendum.
In the past few years, there has been a pattern in the election results. The student body has seen the Vice-President Administration (VP Admin) become President numerous times. The title of VP Admin allows those holding the position to get plenty of handshaking in prior to an election. Few assigned duties combined with part-time student status provide an advantage not available to any other candidates.
Democracy requires a competitive election; otherwise it is not truly democratic. The recent pattern of VP Admins almost automatically becoming President requires review. Not being registered as a full-time student is an advantage that should come under scrutiny during elections. Being a full-time student should not be a liability, especially in a student union election. However, in the MSU it is.
The platforms this year were, for the most part, bland and lacking innovation. In the end, I almost chose to not vote. Emerey Finklestein presented a platform he could achieve, and he was honest, but there was not much else to his campaign.
Jacqueline Cavalheiro—the only female candidate—did a great job holding her own. In response to the person who said they would not vote for her because she is female, this is the 21st century—get with the times, loser. I really hope to see a female President before I graduate. Cavalheiro ran strong campaign, but was perhaps at a disadvantage due to her full-time student status.
Badar Aman Malik impressed many with his platform. Being a recent immigrant to Canada, Malik embraced the challenge of the election and turned a lot of heads with his campaign. He had a good platform, and presented a willingness to make the MSU work for students. As the only candidate who is returning as a student next year, Malik will be one to watch in next year’s election—if he does not win this year.
With the campaign now over, perhaps Drew Mitchell will actually do his job and tell us how our money is being spent.
Whoever is elected will be required to change the culture of the MSU. The new President must bring in supporters that are not simply MSU insiders. Most of all, he or she must literally put the “you” back into the MSU. Hopefully our next President will restore the status and accountability of our student government.
Furthermore, to truly encourage student involvement in the SRA, we must be allowed to vote for our Vice Presidents and not simply have them appointed by the SRA.
Perhaps most importantly, the future leaders of the MSU must address the current democratic deficit that is plaguing our campus.

The OUSA “referendum” was a farce. (Of note, OUSA had nothing to do with this)
John Popham and Kyra Machen, after doing next to nothing all year, called a referendum claiming they were doing something. I have covered this in a previous post, and it had disaster written all over it. In the end, neither John or Kyra bothered to leave the MSU office to speak to students about the referendum let alone run the OUSA promotional campaign that Kyra promised she would do.
At no point did the “referendum” do what Kyra had it advertised to do “to promote OUSA and the services and benefits that come with being a membership school, it will bring a lot of publicity for OUSA and clarify many questions that students may have about such an organization.”
It did none of this. There were no posters, no advertisements, no information sessions, no question and answer, nothing.
Here is the ballot exactly as worded and space out in the same way. (I naturally do not have a copy of the ballot or anything) I have used italics for notes within this.

The McMaster Student (Note: spelling error as appeared on the ballot) Union allocates $2.01 of your MSU membership fees to the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) for the following services:
A. Research
B. Policy
C. Lobbying
D. Campaigns
E. Advocacy
F. Partnership
Do you feel that the services provided by OUSA are valuable:
YES
NO
ABSTAIN
** This referendum does not*(bolding as on ballot)* not challenge our current status within OUSA **

I was in the ballot counting as a scrutineer for the comic-relief candidate. He felt that, since I also speak in favour of fairness, I would make sure the process was fair for everyone involved. Emery is an amazing person. I really wish that he had run his campaign a little different and been serious at all times. When he talked seriously during the campaign, he was clearly above and beyond the other candidates. His slogan of “Corruption You Can Trust, (also known as accountability)” was the most true statement of the campaign.
When I entered the Elections Committee meeting, I could see that the student politicians (with the exception of one) were unhappy to see me. The Administrative Assistant (MSU staff) was clearly the most annoyed. One of the DROs went so far as to tell me that I could not bring my clipboard and pens into the ballot count to make notes. The ballot count is “closed session” of the Elections Committee and as such not supposed to be reported. I explained to them the concept of having scrutineers, that whole transparency/accountability thing.
Anyway, the first ruling of the Elections Committee that was told to me is that all Campaign Expense sheets are MSU confidential documents.
I asked how much each candidate spent. I was told that it is a secret, the MSU will not be releasing it, as the MSU feels there is no need for students to know.
Funny, because students are paying for their campaigns. (disclaimer: I put forth the idea of each candidate automatically receiving a $300 credit at the Student Union copy centre, hence why all candidates get that)
clarification: This idea was put forth by me prior to last year’s presidential race, and sent to the committee by the President at the time. The reason for it was simple, with a guarantee of $300 to spend on posters, flyers, and other printer related materials, any candidate would at least have an opportunity to be heard.
The ballots were not even counted yet and the rhetoric of the campaign had already been forgotten. The MSU continues to be anti-transparency.
It was also revealed to me that candidates do not have to expense coloured scarfs, wristbands, clothes clips (a candidate used them to identify supporters instead of campaign buttons), coloured t-shirts or any other material used which does not have their name directly on it. The elections committee ruled that even if used in a campaign, they are not campaign material.
After this ruling, I spoke with one of the members of the committee. They told me that even if a candidate gains an advantage from these materials, it would be countered by the candidate having to pay for them because they would not be reimbursed, as the items are not defined as campaign material.
There was one candidate who had more of these materials than anyone else, and being paid $512 a week, he could afford it. As I said in my Sil analysis, being a full-time student is a disadvantage running for MSU President.
The definition of non-campaign material used in a campaign is anything that does not say the candidates name or the word vote. Hence why all the campaign scarfs, shirts, clothes clips, bracklets, and other items are non-campaign material.
In terms of the count and vote itself. I see no problems with it and am happy with the conduct of the process (not necessarily the structure of the process), the vote was fair according to the rules.
During the count, there was only one real concern, and considering the margin of victory, it is not important. At one point, the SRA House Leader (a scrutineer for Ryan Moran) touched a bunch of the ballots just to see if the CRO was paying attention. I went over to watch what was occurring and the SRA House Leader had some unpleasant words for me. Considering that it was 4am in the morning, that the MSU was unhappy with my presence, and that the CRO had just told her not to touch the ballots, I cannot say it was all that surprising.
In short, there was no ballot stuffing, or any other problems with the vote.
I have plenty of notes related to the atmosphere of the ballot counting. More interestingly, I have a few of the things that people wrote on spoiled ballots. I will be saving them for The Silhouette next week.
For the purposes of full disclosure, I had to leave the count at 10am after being at the MSU office since 7pm the previous night.
Normally counting ends by 57am (made an error in my typing), so I planned to be there until 8am. I had a mid-term yesterday, hence I needed to leave. Mid-terms are more important than student politics.