On March 14, 15, and 16, voting for the Executive Committee of the Students’ Association of MacEwan University election took place. But, it just seemed too easy — it is politics, after all.
The election result for the role of Vice-President External was appealed, leaving the two nominees in a “he-said-she-said” type of situation. Since then, voters have been on edge and SAMU has found itself in quite the quandary. As for the candidates themselves, the road ahead looks a bit muddy.
After Ismaeel El-Hakim beat out Jakob Cardinal with 875 votes to 801, we thought that all things relating to student governance elections were over for the semester. Yet, this was only the beginning of what was about to unfold in the following weeks. And there’s nothing better than a good ol’ political scandal, especially when it comes from within.
The appeal all started when El-Hakim, who recently segued into running in student politics after working as a part-time employee with SAMU, created a fitness challenge as a part of his campaign. The challenge, which aligned with his goals of reducing stigma around mental health among policy makers and the public, also tied into his fitness and personal training background. “I have four campaign points that I developed — three of which have kind of a common theme,” El-Hakim states. By running workshops on mental health care and prioritizing physical self-care and exercise, his idea stemmed from the thought of, “what can I do, right here, right now, to help students?” he reveals.
The fitness challenge offered MacEwan students the opportunity to get involved with fitness by joining a free Facebook group to receive a training program and nutrition-related tips.
After citing a rule from the nomination package regarding offering campaign incentives, the CRO, who was running the election, allowed El-Hakim to go through with implementing the challenge as a part of his campaign, so long as it included only services, and not physical, tangible items that were being distributed.
But by the time the election was over, “they had identified a mistake in the policy itself,” El-Hakim says. Many saw this challenge as a controversial issue, as it looked — from an outsider’s perspective — like offering intrinsic value to the voters. “There have been appeals in the past; however…if they had gone through, the elected nominee would have either been disqualified or fined….(but this time) they didn’t have grounds to disqualify anyone.”
What started as a campaign idea escalated to an entire shift in the election. And to make it an even bigger deal, this situation is the first time in 17 years that an appeal has been approved and resulted in a by-election.
“There was a discrepancy with the results based on SAMU procedure and policy,” Cardinal reveals. “So I made the appeal, and it did go through.” He explains that he had been focused primarily on his own campaign throughout the entire process, until he discovered evidence that there was, as he says, “unethical business” going on. “I just know that rules were broken,” Cardinal says. “(But) the committee has acted accordingly…there are rules, and they must be followed.” He also admits that after some consideration, it only made sense to report his findings. “It was quite black and white for my decision to make an appeal…(because) I do believe in honouring an open process throughout the entire election.”
Both El-Hakim and Cardinal will be re-running in the by-election, and seem to have put the importance of SAMU’s Executive Committee before their own personal rivalry. “I understand why they had to go with a by-election…there’s a deficit in the rule book that they didn’t clearly explain,” El-Hakim says. “They have to let the other nominees still campaign,” he adds, “that’s only fair.”
The by-election voting will take place on one day only: April 5, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. via MyMacEwan email. “It definitely is strenuous,” Cardinal adds. “The election initially was supposed to end on March 16, and now it’s going to be finishing on April 5. To be extending this period for extra weeks definitely takes a toll.” Not to mention, there will only be a short window of time to get votes into this election.
In March, voter turnout had increased significantly from last year’s election. “I do believe that it will drop overall (this time),” El-Hakim says. “I suspect — given that with finals going on and things like that — students’ minds are probably elsewhere in terms of what they’re going to pay attention to versus not,” he adds. Additionally, on April 5, there will be no classes, meaning that less people will be on campus. “It will be a struggle for this by-election, primarily also just (because) there’s only one day for voting,” Cardinal explains.
Overall, the candidates seem to be making the best of the situation. “I feel confident going into it,” El-Hakim exclaims. “I was wholly unprepared for the last election, but now that I feel as though I have my ducks in a row…I’m a little bit more prepared this time.” As for the election itself, a by-election will open up new opportunities for SAMU that haven’t been done in the past. “In terms of results, I am quite happy,” Cardinal says. “The ability for a by-election proves MacEwan and SAMU’s devotion to promoting an honest, fair, and just election.”