By Jeff Kubik
Once upon a time there were two Students’ Union commissioners named Brett Pearce and Gavin Preston. Both of them wanted very much to be the next vice-president of operations and finance, but in the end there could be only one. Preston won, Pearce appealed; and they lived happily ever after–with Preston’s active membership in the SU suspended and the validity of the election upheld. It’s all so magical.
On Mar. 23, the SU Review Board released its decision regarding Pearce’s March 20 appeal hearing. Finding that Preston had violated three election bylaws, the board retroactively suspended the academic commissioner’s SU membership until Colour Night (May 1) at which time his privileges will resume, allowing him to assume the position of VP Op-Fi. As a result of his retroactive suspension, he has also been ordered to repay honouraria he received since February 17, about $85 according to Preston.
However, the board rejected several elements of Pearce’s appeal. The board determined that Preston was not acting in his official capacity as academic commissioner during his campaign and upheld his assertion that his access to the clubs e-mail list had not aided his campaign. As a result, the election was upheld, leaving Preston as the VP Op-Fi-elect.
“In this case,” reads the Review Board’s report, “it was the decision of the Review Board that the campaigning of Mr. Preston was ‘substantially in accordance’ with the Election Bylaws and that the above noted contraventions did not ‘materially affect the result of the election.’”
While the decision does not invalidate the election or suspend Preston’s active member status for the 2003/2004 academic year, as requested by Pearce, Preston believes that the punishment is unfair.
“It’s a bit harsh,” he said. “Had I run against Lawrence Bailey or Anant Patel, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Preston contends that the penalties levied against him are disproportionate to the severity of the infractions. He believes that they are a direct result of inefficient election bylaws.
“We need to have a system similar to the University of Alberta’s,” he said, “a system in which the chief returning officer can take fining action for petty infractions.”
As it stands, Preston’s suspension is more severe than the financial penalties at the U of A. Essentially banned from all Students’ Union services–including, but not limited to: access to the StÃ¶r, the Den, the SU Copy Centre and the on-line forums–Preston contends that the sanctions do not accurately reflect the privileges of an SU active member.
“I can’t seem to do anything; I can go to school and work out,” he said. “[U of C President] Harvey Weingarten isn’t an active member of the SU and yet he can still go into the Den. You can be a non-student and still use all of these things.”
While Preston will be able to assume the VP Op-Fi position when the suspension expires, important issues of preparation have become apparent. Without access to SU facilities and limited access to staff, he has found maintaining contact with the SU difficult.
“There are SU staff members asking me to meet with them regarding various matters and I have to remind them that I don’t have access to SU meeting rooms,” he said. “I still have to know what’s going on but I’m not even allowed to speak to the SU office’s receptionist.”
In the meantime, at least, Preston appears more than capable of dealing with the temporary suspension.
“It’s kind of like a holiday,” he said.”I guess without SLC meetings I can finally go to cheap Tuesday movie nights.”
Pearce did not return requests for comment.