Independent presidential candidate disqualified

Aaron Griffiths, the independent UMSU presidential candidate, was disqualified from the 2012 general elections, just hours before polling stations closed at the University of Manitoba campus.

The disqualification resulted from a complaint filed by Chief Returning Officer (CRO), Mike Safiniuk, who was advised by the executive director of UMSU, Cathy Dowd, that Griffiths had used a painting belonging to the University of Manitoba Recycling and Environmental Group (UMREG) as a canvas for one of his banners.

According to a report filed by the office of the CRO, Dowd advised Safiniuk that the painting was originally commissioned for UMREG approximately 10 to 12 years ago, and that it was “on a custom canvas frame, and has value.”

The removal of the painting from UMREG “caused significant damage to the painting,” the report states.

An appraisal of the costs to restore the painting performed by Cliff Eyland, an associate professor in the School of Art, determined that the value of the work was between $300-500.

“Restoration costs would far exceed this work’s value,” he said, according to the report.

Safiniuk ruled that Griffiths is responsible for costs related to the damage of the painting, and added the damages to Griffiths’s campaign costs. As a result Griffiths exceed his campaign expense limit of $310 and was disqualified under UMSU election bylaws.

The painting had been located in UMREG offices by one of Griffiths’s volunteers, Scott Leroux, who also works with UMREG.

Leroux said that he was under the impression that the painting was available for use, since it had been “stuffed behind the lockers” after being taken down to make space.

“I was like, ‘we’ve got this big old canvas that’s just been here forever’ . . . It was with the intention of bringing it back, just temporarily using it,” Leroux explained.

However, Anders Annell, manager of UMREG, told the Manitoban that the painting was located in an area of UMREG that was not designated as an area for recycled material to be taken away free of charge, and that it was taken from UMREG without proper authorization.

The banner was originally approved for use as part of Griffiths’s campaign materials. However, Safiniuk said he was unaware of how Griffiths’s volunteers had obtained the canvas for the banner at the time it was approved.

“We review campaign materials to ensure that they are in accordance with the bylaws . . . it’s looking at the content of campaign material, not where it came from, what was it cost, did they obtain it appropriately . . . that is the responsibility of the candidate,” he explained.

Griffiths said he was not aware that the painting was removed from UMREG without proper authorization, or that using it as part of his campaign materials was a violation of the election bylaws.

“I would say I’m surprised [by the decision], but I’m not,” he said.

David Bowles, a volunteer for Griffiths’s campaign, said he felt the decision “proves what a farce these elections are.”

Both Bowles and Griffiths said they were also concerned that the banner was taken down immediately after the complaint was filed and still under investigation, which Griffiths says likely hurt his campaign in the final days of the election.

He added that he was also concerned that the complaint about the banner came forward from UMSU staffers, arguing that this may be a conflict of interest.

Dowd disagreed with Griffiths’s concern, explaining that she was simply trying to ensure that property of UMREG had not been removed from their offices without proper authorization after she recognized the painting in University Centre.

She explained that the painting was still property of UMREG at the time it was taken by Griffiths’s volunteers, and that UMREG had plans to keep the painting. She added that the painting was an original work by a U of M student, but that their signature had been painted over.

Griffiths filed an appeal to his disqualification with the Elections and Referenda Discipline, Interpretation and Enforcement board. He argued that the appraisal of the painting was “outrageous”, and that damages to the painting should not have been considered a campaign expense.

“Even if the Aaron Griffiths campaign was wrong to recycle the painting, this expense is no different from a parking ticket, which nobody would force a candidate to include in campaign expenses,” he wrote in his appeal.

He also pointed out that the CRO was approximately half an hour late in issuing a written ruling regarding the complaint, which he argued contravened a provision in the bylaws that states the CRO must issue a written response within 24 hours of the complaint being filed.

Safiniuk disputed this claim, stating that he was investigating a violation of the election bylaws that had been brought forward to him by Dowd, not ruling on a complaint, and was thus not subject to this rule.

The appeal was ultimately denied, but the committee did recommend the election bylaws be amended to clarify that the CRO is required to issue a written ruling on all potential bylaw violations within the time limit. It was also recommended that the bylaws be amended to state that the CRO must also be made aware of how candidates obtain their campaign materials.

While the CRO’s office has not released the number of votes Griffiths received, the Manitoban estimates that it would have been between 400-500, based on the reported number of votes placed, and the number received by the two remaining presidential candidates

20 Comments on "Independent presidential candidate disqualified"

  1. Bannatyne Campus | March 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm |

    Really UMSU?

  2. I would love to see this painting, and how the appraised value of $300-$500 was reached. This doesn’t sit well with me.

  3. Pierre Poutine | March 9, 2012 at 5:30 pm |

    I think it’s time to occupy UC.

  4. This is completely absurd. A total abuse of ‘power’ by MY student union. I want my fee’s back. You’re fired!

  5. WerQ! – Published the photos of the damage!

  6. Bannatyne | March 9, 2012 at 8:40 pm |

    The CRO disqualified Griffiths because he spent over his limit. Griffiths spent over his limit because the CRO charged his campaign for the value of the painting, putting Griffiths over the limit.
    Catch-22 anyone?

  7. That’s ridiculous, UMSU. Way to make an issue out of nothing and disqualify a solid candidate. What a joke.

  8. 85% say no. The support for this guy (completely serious campaign or not) is amazing, and he just gets it. When was the last time UMSU had a President that was openly aware and admitted to how useless UMSU actually is. All he wants to do is make the university more fun – is there anything wrong with that?

    Also that bus ban…one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen a group of people in charge make.

    • Yes, there is something wrong with just wanting to make university just more “fun”. There are GLARING issues of Aramark’s takeover of campus and skyrocketing costs that need to be dealt with. Making life more “fun” isn’t going to change that. UMSU is focusing on the REAL issues here (I’ve been involved with UMSU for 3 years now) and, with the exception of one president recently, they’ve been doing an alright job (not spectacular, but decent). Just because people aren’t having “fun” doesn’t mean things are getting done. If you want “fun”, go to FolkFest, not university.

  9. Dan Waycik | March 10, 2012 at 6:09 am |

    This is exactly the shady under the table type of thing that has made u of m lackluster in my eyes. I have spent all year fighting my way through Supposedly completely legitimate means, to make a proper difference at this school. Not because I am a nice guy, but because I want my degree to come from a school that makes a name for itself. I myself being disqualified from an election in which I received a clear majority of votes in my faculty, (only to take the position by default 3 months later in a bi-election) have experienced this meaningless squabble…

    It’s the same group over and over again selfishly squandering the hard work of other individuals that has sullied the integrity of this institution, it is these same individuals that have sought me to apply at other universities…

    Way to go “umsu” (not really and union or students involved)

  10. That painting aint worth fuckin shit.

  11. Sounds like 1) He took something that wasn’t his/didn’t have permission to take which is theft 2) The damage is done by him painting over top of the original commission, which cannot be brought back. How would you feel if you were the original artist, knowing that their hard work was ruined by someone who doesn’t know the difference between 3 and 5 and who didn’t have permission to do so. Seems legit to me. You don’t see politicians in this city making their campaign signs off of old pieces of artwork they stole from the backroom at the art gallery.

    • As the artist I would be pretty upset that my hard work was stuffed behind some lockers. Props to the students who use ingenuity and creativity to run their campagins. If only thinking outside the box rather than towing the UMSU line and being controlled by the higher ups paid of as well.

      • That being said, all cadidates are well aware of the rules, and that actions taken by their volunteers will impact their campaign so more due dilligence should have been taken as to where this canvas was obtained from.

    Morrey has the correct answer! Thanks for playing the game of life.

  13. I agree Truth. But I think the real questions are:
    1) Should Aaron’s campaign have been held responsible for the damage or should Aaron, the student, have been assessed the damage?
    2) Was the painting fairly evaluated?

    Personally I think that the CRO holding a candidate financially responsible for damages during a campaign sets a dangerous precedent. What if a candidate incurs a parking ticket on campus during a campaign? Should that count against their budget?

    Second, Is it possible to fairly value the painting? What did UMSU pay for it? Can we see the bill? If it had been disregarded for two years, as claimed by Griffiths’s campaign, what does that do to the value?

  14. I think the evaluation on the painting was fair considering it probably added labour and materials cost. As a president of a student group, I know that UMREG doesn’t appreciate things being taken from them without permission, and No More Tears SHOULD be punished for it’s stupidity.

  15. The UMSU staff has probably been trying to get Griffith disqualified all campaign long. They know if he gets in, all those people are out, and rightfully so

  16. I don’t buy the notion that Griffiths was this amazing candidate with amazing support. Judging by the reported turnout, the number of members in UMSU, and the number of votes that Bilan and Thiane got, there’s only about 200-400 “unaccounted for” votes out there that would have gone to Griffiths – who was only disqualified at the last minute and whose name would have remained on the ballot.

    While complaints and appeals are always a serious issue, especially when it gets to disqualifications, it seems as though whether Griffiths didn’t have enough support to win the election either way.

  17. Judging by the content of your post and the ample amount of quotations you used around the word fun, I’m assuming you rarely have any.

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