Democracy’s truest test

By Lawrence Bailey

Well folks, it’s all over but the appeals.

In what was the most hotly contested and wide-reaching Students’ Union General Election in my six years at the University of Calgary, the anti-party vote seems to have made the difference. As the vote followed on the heels of my prediction this would not be the case, I must first admit I was wrong.

So, what exactly happened?

Judging by the breakdown of the votes, and based on regular communication with many campaigns and voters, I would say that despite an amazing effort, Barski’s Cabinet fell about 300-400 votes of accomplishing their goal–a majority government.

In by far the most impressive, organized and thorough campaign I have ever witnessed at the university level, Phil Barski and his team turned this election on its ear, galvanizing both supporters and opponents. In the final analysis, however, their approximately 1,400-1,500 core group was undermined by what seems to be a reactionary anti-Barski vote.

Regardless, upwards of half of the voters in this election (or the equivalent of all voters in the 2003 election) likely came out as a result of the Barski campaign, whether in support or in opposition. Criticisms of the campaign generally focused on a perceived lack of substance in their platform, but also included a very strong aversion by many students to the idea of one-party rule.

One criticism that cannot be leveled is that they have damaged democracy on campus–yet.

What Barski and his team accomplished is remarkable. The 28.2 per cent voter turnout is mind-boggling, not only by U of C standards, but by North American post-secondary institution standards. By bringing a whole new approach to both campaigning and governance to the table, they energized a generally apathetic commuter campus, bringing students to the polls in record numbers.

However, they still fell short in the final analysis, and the next two months will be the truest test of whether it is a one election event or whether the new-found interest in this democracy can stand the test of time.

In the wake of a fairly thorough defeat (only one executive position and four commissioner positions were secured by Barski’s Cabinet) both rumours and threats of lawsuits and review board challenges abound. Depending on how messy the next few months are, it could crush every democratic gain made in the last month.

As we saw last year, when current Vice-President Operations and Finance Gavin Preston’s election was disputed all the way to the Tribunal, taking the election from the ballot box to the court room breeds very cynical, dissatisfied students. After a year where so many gains were made for student involvement, due in large part to Barski and his team, those gains may well be threatened in the near future.

Here’s to hoping there was legitimate and genuine concern on the part of the students who voted in this election and that a fire has been lit inside many members of the campus community. Here’s to hoping the gains made during the election can withstand the challenges to be faced in its wake.

The voting is over. Sadly, the election is just beginning.


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