February 27, 2018 —
Every few years, only one candidate runs for an executive position in the Students’ Union general election, causing the candidate to win the position by default. When we review these candidates for our SU election supplement, our tone is pretty standard — if there has to be an acclamation, thank goodness it’s someone who seems to know what they’re getting into.
That’s the case with this year’s SU president-elect, Sagar Grewal, who put forward a solid platform and gave us a confident and level-headed interview during our SU election coverage. But students can’t always count on high-quality acclamations. It’s easy to imagine an unqualified candidate being the only student to run for an executive position and their incompetence leading to lasting damage. Given that Grewal is the second acclaimed SU president in four years — following decades of no presidential acclamations — that scenario seems likely to happen eventually.
The risks of unfit candidates aren’t the only concerns surrounding acclamations. The last time the SU president was acclaimed, voter turnout dropped roughly three per cent from the previous year. And not running a rigourous election campaign lessens a student politician’s obligation of engagement and accountability — candidates approach a lot of students during election time to secure votes. Those kinds of interactions with the student population become largely optional when you don’t have to convince anyone to vote for you.
Students deserve a voice in who will represent them. The easiest way to achieve this — and a system in use in a number of other Canadian students’ unions and student clubs — is by holding yes or no votes for acclaimed candidates. Requiring acclaimed candidates to secure a majority of ‘yes’ votes to take office would expose their ideas to some of the same scrutiny that candidates vying for contended positions must face. If a majority of students decide that those ideas aren’t worthy of office, that decision should hold weight.
A candidate that loses a yes or no vote would leave the position vacant. It’s the same outcome that would occur if no one ran for the position in the first place — and rightfully so. A ‘no’ vote represents the absence of a candidate that’s deemed fit for office by the student body. The SU already has policy in place to deal with vacancies. The process of calling a by-election and soliciting new candidates may be cumbersome and would temporarily leave some positions empty. But it would be worthwhile to ensure that students’ interests are being represented in the selection of SU executives.
SU executives do vital work on our campus through their advocacy, representation and provision of services and events. However, these executives should remain accountable to a student voting body. A yes or no vote would ensure that students always have a say in the people and the ideas that will shape their student governance in years to come. With rising acclamations in recent years, it’s troubling that the SU has yet to meaningfully address the issue. Hopefully that changes this year.
— Jason Herring, Gauntlet Editorial Board
Update, March 1: This editorial was previously published in print and online with the headline ‘We need an alternative to acclamations in SU elections.’