a, Opinion

Elections SSMU institutionally unaccountable

I am not one of the several thousand students who voted for Tariq Khan. However, since the student body has been informed of Elections SSMU’s invalidation of Khan’s victory on Apr. 1, I have questioned the underlying policy. Many students, including myself, have expressed surprise that Elections SSMU even had the power to invalidate a president-elect. In an already apathetic student political culture, this invalidation only serves to widen the vast gap of trust between our student government and the students. It is interesting that Elections SSMU is advocating for more political participation on campus, yet the invalidation creates a sense of frustration that leads to disillusionment among voters. If all our votes are nullified in a single sweep, regardless of the accusations, the future of political participation at McGill is adversely affected.

Appointed bodies are always more susceptible to institutional interests than the electorate, as in theory, the appointee may reflect the interests of those that appointed them. Therefore, we need to recognize that the power to invalidate a candidate should not rest with Elections SSMU, but with the student body. Elections SSMU should act as an organization that can investigate the complaints brought to them and petition to invalidate the president-elect while maintaining the privacy of those who report infractions. The student body should have the final say on judging the validity of the invalidation.

Elections SSMU is composed of three members, hired through the SSMU Council, whose aim is to “run accountable elections for members of the SSMU.” The email sent out by Elections SSMU on Apr. 1, states that “Article 27.1 of the SSMU By-Law Book I-1 gives Elections SSMU the ability to invalidate the election of a successful candidate if there have been violations of the By-laws, Constitution, or the Policies of the Society that have adversely affected the outcome of the election.”

To clarify, I am not defending Khan’s alleged actions. It is possible that he is guilty of the accusations brought against him by various individuals on campus, which have recently been leaked to campus media. Also, I am not attacking the individual members of Elections SSMU, as they are following due diligence and performing their required duties. Blaming them for acting in accordance with the bylaws ignores the larger issue at stake. The question is not: “Did Elections SSMU make the right decision?” but rather “Should Elections SSMU have the power to make that decision?”

Looking beyond the context of McGill, certain democratic societies of the world do not permit appointed bodies to invalidate candidates. Looking to Canada as an example, the Supreme Court or Elections Canada is not given the power to invalidate any prime-minster elect. The legislative houses, which are the representative bodies of the people, are given the jurisdiction to impeach an executive. Since SSMU does not have a legislative body that accurately represents every member of our university, the only close alternative is a direct decision by the students themselves through a referendum.

The student body must recognize that the invalidation is a misuse of power and move to reform our bylaws in order to bridge the gap between the government and the people. Our bylaws have forced Elections SSMU to make decisions inconsistent with the principles of a democratic election, undermining the legitimacy of the electoral process. It is our responsibility to reform the bylaws to reflect our political will and to ensure the integrity of elections to come.

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  1. “Looking to Canada as an example, the Supreme Court or Elections Canada is not given the power to invalidate any prime-minster elect. The legislative houses, which are the representative bodies of the people, are given the jurisdiction to impeach an executive.”

    This is actually wrong, sort-of. I guess technically neither could invalidate the actual PM (since you do not need to be an elected MP to be Prime Minister), but the Courts and Elections Canada can invalidate elections when there are irregularities or illegal actions. Here is an example where the Courts ruled on whether an election was valid: http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2011/2011onsc2527/2011onsc2527.html

    And while it wasn’t Canada, the US Supreme Court ruled on the validity in the Gore v Bush election in 2000 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_v._Gore). If you have rules SOMEONE has to enforce them. I’d rather an impartial body than putting everything to vote since direct democracy is crazy inefficient.

  2. ElieLubendo

    My one issue with the article is that it tries to balance the fact that Elections SSMU misused it power while emphasizing the need for reform in the SSMU By-laws. I think that in the case of Elections SSMU, the two are mutually exclusive. Elections SSMU made a bad call, not because they misused their power or because they have poor judgement, but rather because a flaw in the By-Laws bound them to do it (as you stated in your closing paragraph). Yes, a by-election would have been a better call (if we find that there are grounds for his disqualification). However, the By-laws don’t have that alternative, so that decision cannot be made.

    Additionally, I think it would be a lot better to compare the function of Elections SSMU to other electoral groups at Canadian universities rather than the Canadian Supreme Court. There’s an abundance of differences and factors between post-secondary student associations and national legislative bodies. I also think that a non-partisan group like Elections SSMU, that has no affiliation to the election should be making the call. If it was up to students to do it through a referendum, you run into the possibility of allowing someone that broke electoral bylaws to win an election. It is likely that in this case, the voter turnout would drop and the result of the question would be dependent on which side would have the greater ability to sway the more votes (Yes/No Campaigns). All this goes against the purpose of Elections SSMU: impartiality. This is also the reason why there’s been many problems in the past with the GA. Students can rally enough votes to pass anything (technically, every McGill building has a Star Trek name, we’re supposed to build a climbing wall, etc.).

    I don’t think that Elections SSMU is “institutionally unaccountable.” But rather that, due to legislative loopholes that have resulted in, as argued, unrepresentative decisions our By-laws need an overhaul. The best that we can do is wait for the J-Board decision, fix our by-laws, and learn from this ordeal. Elections SSMU is not broken–it does not need to be fixed.

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