Commentary | Caution: children at play

Comment

This is my third year covering SSMU for The Daily, but I have never seen such a sorry state of affairs as I did this past Thursday in the Lev Bukhman Council Room. Even compared to the ridiculous situation in the House of Commons – chided across the country – student leaders deserve to hang their heads in shame.

Let’s back up two weeks. Hours before polls open in the SSMU elections, Council decided to publicly reprimand Elections McGill, its own independent electoral body – an unprecedented move. The decision addressed Elections McGill’s “failure to meet SSMU standards on bilingualism,” “insufficient promotional activities,” “inaccuracies in print materials,” and “inaccessibility to election candidates and referendum committee members.” For a body that produces nearly all its documents uniquely in English – including its web site and the ads it places in The Daily, gets pathetic turnout at student activism events like general assemblies not involving Gaza and Reclaim Your Campus, and doesn’t even have a list of its members on its web site, that’s pretty rich.

But still, if Elections McGill wasn’t doing its job, it deserved to be censured, no? I mean, if there’s anything more useful than a non-binding motion attempting to shatter confidence in its own electoral agency and distract it from its job on the eve of the election by bickering in public, I don’t know what it is.

Not that it’s all Council’s fault. At its meeting four days ago, Council got to witness Chief Electoral Officer Nicole Gileadi officially present the results of the votes to Council, after which she rightly chastised Council for its childish actions two weeks earlier and then, like the kid taking the ball and going home, announced the entire agency’s staff’s resignation, handed over the keys to the office, and left.

But it didn’t end there. Council was then required to formalize the voting results by adopting the report, normally a routine, uncontroversial event. Instead, councillors got their own ball rolling, ridiculing Elections McGill by proposing to amend the report to include under the section “Significant Achievements” the statement that very few candidates presented themselves for the race. After frequent requests from the Speaker for decorum, Council eventually decided to strike the whole section, and would likely have struck more if not for its concern that its actions might invalidate the razor-thin QPIRG referendum result.

One of the agency’s achievements that Gileadi frequently repeated was the relative lack of campaign violations. Does anyone think this would be the case if the positions were all strongly contested or Jake “not here for the first time in four years” Itzkowitz was around? I suppose it’s possible, given that Elections McGill isn’t even close to having the resources to monitor, let alone enforce, the rules. Here’s a Daily editorial from two years ago that still rings true: “Right now poster restrictions and campaign committee regulations are so stringent – and so frequently broken – that they are indeed meaningless.”

What should Council have done? Along with the five other bylaw changes it is proposing in its next meeting, it should overhaul its electoral bylaws, which now have 30 clauses and a litany of sub-clauses and sub-sub-clauses, with voting procedures that frequently refer to paper ballot voting, now only used when online voting doesn’t work. As well, the impartial agency in charge of administering a fair election should not be in charge of encouraging people to run against already-declared candidates.

In fact, if officials had actually read the bylaws, they would have discovered that the definition of the “spoilt” ballots so critical to deciding whether QPIRG’s result achieved a “simple majority” – different from an “absolute majority” – is irrelevant, because the ballots in question should have been rejected, not spoilt: spoilt is for when a ballot is found defective before entering the “ballot box;” rejected is for when it’s found not to be a valid vote afterward. Anyone who’s worked a day at a polling station for Elections Canada or Quebec should know that!

Luckily, there’s still one Council meeting left this year, so in a display of good faith, and to prove that Daily editors don’t just whine and complain without offering any constructive help, I’m willing to work with any councillor to rewrite the bylaws from scratch before Council adjourns till the fall. I’m at least mildly hopeful that one of you will take me up on my offer.

Nicholas Smith is a Daily news editor who’s been to the Law Building twice in his life. If you want him to do your work for you, contact him at telso@videotron.ca.


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