Claims of widespread campaign violations and criticism of the chief returning officer overshadowed the election. Although satisfied with the overall conduct of the election, Rohail Tanoli accused Team Unity of unfair play. “The message of the election was ‘If you run on the incumbent slate, you can cheat and you will still win.” Tanoli, the only independent candidate in the election, added “I wasn’t expecting to win at all. I was only running to make a point: the system is corrupt, it’s unfair, it favours the incumbents.”
Since the beginning of the election period on February 27, several complaints about both slates’ campaigning were lodged with the CRO, Daniel Lo. Although Lo initially dismissed the charges made against Unity, four of them were upheld on appeal to the Elections and Referenda Committee. The ERC found Unity guilty of “misrepresentation of facts” for statements made on their website, including the claim that they had increased club funding. Student club financial documents revealed that funding had actually dipped by $5771. The ERC subsequently issued Team Unity 21 demerit points across the board.
In another twist, on March 8 the election’s highest appeal board, the Elections and Referenda Appeals Committee, found “sufficient evidence” for overturning the ERC’s decisions and cleared Team Unity of all charges.
Members of Students First were also accused of breaking campaign rules, most notably by allegedly encouraging supporters to hold up signs saying “No more dirty tricks Shaun Shepherd” at the all-candidates debate on February 29. The ERC dismissed this charge against Students First earlier this month.
In the last couple of weeks, fake Twitter accounts were created to criticize candidates on both sides anonymously. On the day the polls opened, the newspaper and The Varsity were tagged in a Tweet by UTSU Watch – a “non-partisan, student-run organization dedicated to exposing anti-democratic and corrupt practices at the UTSU” – with pictures of Unity campaign flyers inside voting booths. The blurry “photographic evidence” of Unity election violations was less than convincing.
Now that the votes have been counted, UTSU president-elect Shaun Shepherd said it is time to leave the controversy behind. “Come election time, things tend to get a little heated for obvious reasons. Right now we need to cool down and move forward.”
If the election results stand, one of the new student union’s first priorities will be to fulfill their campaign promise to make a stretch of St. George St. on campus pedestrian-only. With voter turnout in this year’s election at only a little over 10 per cent for the second year in a row, Shepherd is also seeking ways to get students more involved in campus politics. “We need to make people feel more welcome to walk through our doors.”