Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fairness and Campaign Spending Limits

Most people in our society will agree that things should be fair.  We want fairness in hiring policies, fairness in sports, fairness in educational assessment, and fairness in politics (at least most of us).  Of course agreeing on what counts as fairness is harder then agreeing on the abstract idea that things should be fair. 

At the last standing committee on governance of the UNA I proposed a set of revisions to the UNA's longstanding campaign rules and policies. The proposals at the June governance meeting followed on a discussion during the previous meeting of the committee.  It seemed to me that the then current rules lacked a certain amount of fairness.

First, the voters list (essentially the UNA membership list) is only provided to candidates as a pdf.  While one can with some effort convert that document into a spreadsheet, it would have seemed reasonable to provide the info to candidates in a more modern and usable format. 

Second, the rules on signage are, in my opinion, rather silly and ultimately unenforceable.  We spent close to 30 minutes going over the signage rules in the June governance meeting and worked out a modest compromise.  My view is that candidates should be allowed to post signs within the public domain.  Not everyone (directors or staff) agrees with that viewpoint.  But, we had worked out a compromise that focused  on the UNA reserving the right to remove a sign for good cause rather than an outright ban or a carte blanch open terrain signage policy.

Thirdly, we introduced a campaign spending limit.  It seemed to me that an arbitrary number (10% of the stipend paid to ordinary directors) was reasonable.   The criteria and policies was full of holes and any (as my father would say) fo'c'sle accountant could weasel around them with finesse (for the curious, such an accountant is a crew member on a commercial fishboat who has added up all the costs of the fishing trip, calculated how much fish has been caught, and then determined what they will make - typically inflated- long before the fish are even caught or sold).  But of spending limits the idea was based in the genuine trust and belief that most people would be honest and fair-minded and do their best to follow the rules and more importantly agree that using money to win an election is not fair.   Why, I wonder, would any person want to spend more than a few hundred dollars?  What sort of person wants to buy election to the UNA through massive spending?  Little did I realize that there would be reasonable people who would stand up on hind legs and (metaphorically) roar with indignation over the thought that their civil liberties would be undermined by the 'pernicious act' of a campaign spending limit.

Ultimately a combination of bad timing and circumstances has resulted in the withdrawal of the 2013 rules and the rolling over of the operational rules and policies that the 2012 UNA Board implemented.

For those who are curious the recommendations of the standing committee were to go to the July UNA Board meeting.  However that meeting was cancelled due to the absence of Thomas Beyer (on holiday) Nancy Knight (on medical leave) and myself (I was in remote coastal location conducting research as part of my regular responsibility as a UBC faculty member).  Thus there was no quorum and the July board meeting was cancelled.  This left the UNA board with a dilemma - we are bound to call an election and issue the appropriate notices in a timely fashion in advance of the Annual General Meeting.  This year the meeting is a bit earlier than normal (September 18) so we had even less time then we might have normally.  So the decision was made to send out the notices rather than defer the AGM and the election of directors.

This is when it was brought to our attention by our own legal counsel that while the UNA has the full legal right to set rules and policies regarding the election (including setting spending limits) the standing committees (even though they are comprised of the full board) can't act without the Board's authority which is only possible to formally enact at a full board meeting.  To cut a long story short we were not able to rely upon the June governance committee decision to approve the rules.  If we had been able to approve the rules at the board meeting we would be fully within our legal rights to do so. 

So this year's election will follow the rules established by last year's board  (Resident directors were: Laquin, Mah, Frank, and Beyers).  We will have to wait for next year to revise and improve the rules of the election. 

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