CSU Electoral Officer Warns Pre-Campaigning Will Hurt More Than Help

New Rules Target Fee-Levy Groups Contravening Campaign Regulations

Graphic Brandon Johnston

Ahead of the upcoming Concordia Student Union general elections, which will include a vote on contentious fee-levy reforms, the CSU’s chief electoral officer is implementing new ways to deal with violations of election regulations.

“Since the circumstances arising during [last] fall’s byelection, I have been concerned as to how to best negotiate the problem of anonymous groups acting in deliberate contravention of the rules and regulations that govern not only the elections, but the form and function of the Concordia Student Union itself,” said CEO Andre-Marcel Baril.

During last November’s byelections, an unofficial “no” campaign asking students to oppose the Concordia Food Coalition’s request for a fee levy went online, a campaign Baril judged to be illegal.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an organizer of the “no” campaign told The Link that the group found out about the CFC’s campaign after the Nov. 1 deadline to form an official “no” committee had passed, and they weren’t aware they could come forward at a CSU council meeting after the deadline to be approved as an official referendum committee either.

Having a real debate on the requested fee levy was made difficult by the anonymity of the “no” campaign’s organizers, according to the CFC’s supporters.

To deal with the issue of anonymous groups and campaign violations in general, Baril has issued two directives ahead of this year’s CSU general elections, set to take place from March 25 to March 27, that give him the ability to sanction such groups or postpone or cancel a referendum altogether.

According to the first new directive, if a referendum committee obtains an “unfair advantage” by breaking election regulations, the CEO now “reserve[s] the right to restrict or rescind the ability to campaign on campus and to implement fines.”

Another new directive gives the CEO the right to cancel or postpone a vote on a referendum question or feel levy if an effective penalty can’t be issued to counteract the violation of election rules.

CSU rules say that, up to three weeks before polling, the CEO can issue “additional policies and directives for the duration of the elections period.” The CEO may also issue supplemental directives during the campaign period in response to unexpected situations or actions.

“In order to maintain the integrity of the elections and in turn avoid setting a precedent that shows that our union’s rules and regulations can be breached without repercussions, I feel that this provision is necessary,” Baril wrote in an email forwarded to CSU councillors and the student press on Feb. 26.

It’s against union regulations to campaign outside of the designated campaigning period, which begins March 11. Baril issued the directives after seeing actions that could be considered as “pre-campaigning,” including the website supportfeelevygroups.com.

The site launched on Feb. 25 with a statement explaining how the groups contribute to the Concordia community. The website was taken down two days later, after Baril issued the new directives and told its creators that they could face sanctions if the website stays up.

The website appeared following a CSU council meeting on Feb. 12, when JMSB representatives presented two petitions on proposed changes to the fee-levy system. After debating the issue, council passed a motion to add a ballot question in the upcoming elections asking students whether they want to vote on future fee-levy funding requests on a per-faculty basis.

A majority vote of undergrads is currently required to pass a fee levy. Fee-levy groups are independent organizations funded by a per-credit fee, including student media, the Art Matters Festival and Cinema Politica.

“The referendum questions submitted hold the potential to be more contentious and controversial than what I have experienced in the past,” Baril said. “I inferred that there was going to be a higher likelihood of people attempting to break the rules and regulations, which are in place to maintain electoral integrity.”

According to Baril, the only way the CEO can ensure an even playing field is to reduce the visibility on campus of any side that knowingly breaks the rules.

“This does not mean that people cannot be vocal in their respective support or opposition to any side of the argument,” he said.

“However, if people want to exist outside the rules by not joining an easily accessible referendum committee that will actually provide more positives than negatives solely for the purpose of having an unfair advantage, they will now have a bearing—up to my discretion—on how the legitimate resources are allocated to legitimate groups.”

Baril acknowledged that cancelling or postponing a vote on a referendum question would be “a drastic step,” but he said allowing a vote to proceed despite the unfairness resulting from “illegitimate behaviour, libel or slander” would be of “less service to the democratic system” than to refuse it altogether.

—With files from Andrew Brennan