Twitter lit up last week, after a screenshot of a Facebook post was shared showing the vice chair of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission Board (SaskWheat) of Directors endorsing four of the ten candidates running for seats in the current director election.
On October 2, Dan Danielson, in a public Facebook post, listed the four candidates he believes are the “best choices to benefit farmers and our economy”.
Though he did not violate any written policies by endorsing candidates, the post has drawn much criticism, with comments referring to it as “extremely poor governance protocol” and “a complete violation of ethics.”
In a separate Facebook post a little over two weeks later, Danielson shared incumbent candidate Glenn Tait’s status ending in “Vote for me.” When asked by a commenter why current directors are “trying to influence the outcome of the election”, Danielson wrote:
“We are all farmers and want the best directors especially those who support farmers when industry tries to reduce the farmer share of the food dollar. These are free elections and when I won my second term I did not join the opposition slate.”
Tait added that the subject spurred a “very thoughtful discussion at the last board meeting. The position that we came to at the end was that we had no right to gag board members on any topic (except privileged info, etc.), but it was still bad form to actively campaign.”
On Twitter, Tait later wrote: “No one( except staff, of course) is barred from having an opinion.”
In government election campaigns, endorsements don’t just come from celebrities and political junkies. Politicians themselves become involved in supporting or denouncing candidates.
Leading up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States, for example, candidates saw endorsements from people who were involved in congress, state officials, and white house staff. Even the sitting President, Barack Obama, eventually came out supporting Hillary Clinton.
France’s visiting Prime Minister also endorsed Clinton, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a more diplomatic approach, saying he’d work with whomever won.
In the 2015 leadership race in our own country, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne drew great controversy in her enthusiastic support of then-candidate Justin Trudeau.
British Columbia’s Premier Christy Clark, on the other hand, refused to endorse any party, saying, “I’ll let the federal politicians figure out their end of it, and we’ll work with whatever comes out the end after election day.”
Mayor of Edmonton Don Iveson said, “It’s not my role to tell anyone who to vote for…but I’m going to suggest what to vote for. Vote for cities…But, above all else, make sure you vote.”
Pros and cons
The benefits of endorsement are fairly obvious. An endorsed candidate receives more publicity, and perhaps higher name-recognition as a result of the recommendation. The endorser may receive something in return, as well, whether that’s a potential position in the candidate’s administration (provided they win) or bragging rights (also provided the candidate wins).
But, providing an endorsement also comes with risk. The endorser may receive public scrutiny over their choice in candidate, or just their choice to publicly support someone. After the election (and perhaps this is particularly true of small boards), an endorsement may create tensions in the meeting room should people disagree, or should an unendorsed candidate be elected to join the team.
Board policies differ
It is up to an individual board to develop policy around public endorsements by sitting directors. Boards may:
- Choose not to allow sitting directors the opportunity to endorse candidates, and have consequences should a director break this rule. This requires defining what is or isn’t an endorsement, and enforcement.
- Have unwritten or verbal guidelines/understanding.
- Not have an official stance on the subject, leaving it up to the individuals on the board.
- Not have an official stance on the subject but strongly encourage or discourage the practice.
- Endorse candidates (as a board) who meet the qualifying criteria.
- Select their own members.
It should be mentioned that directors and delegates involvement in politics outside of the board is another matter. There are a number of ways to approach this as well, though many choose to allow individuals to support parties or nominees of municipal/provincial/federal politics, provided they keep this activity separate from their role on the board.
Over the last few days, we’ve been in touch with various agricultural boards across the prairies. This list includes those who responded immediately, with some who cited there is no official policy regarding endorsements adding that there had never been an issue with it, and in one case staff told us there was high resistance to campaigning at all.
Alberta Barley – No official policy.
Alberta Beef Producers – No official policy.
Alberta Canola Producers Commission – No official policy.
Alberta Wheat – No official policy.
Manitoba Beef Producers – No official policy.
Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission – No official policy.
Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association – No official policy.
Saskatchewan Pulse Growers – “No director will actively campaign in an SPG election outside of campaigning for themselves. Neither the SPG Board, nor its directors will endorse candidates in an election.”
Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association – Discussed at the last meeting and decided board and directors will remain neutral in upcoming election.
Views from Twitter
Who is the nomination chair? Are endorsements from sitting members allowed? What are consequences for going offside, if not allowed? pic.twitter.com/XX2MUnbdfO
— Gerrid Gust (@gustgd) October 20, 2017
It’s getting more and more common for boards to pre-select criteria to favour particular candidates or put out board notice of preference.
— Merle Massie ? (@merlemassie) October 20, 2017
Then you have a very weak board which shows in the lack of engagement with Cereals Canada and industry as a whole #timeforchange
— Jim Wickett (@jw4830) October 21, 2017
Dan is not in violation of any approved board policy.
— Laura Reiter (@ReiterLJ) October 20, 2017
I am looking forward to working with whomever Saskatchewan wheat producers elect in the upcoming @Sk_Wheat election.
— Laura Reiter (@ReiterLJ) October 20, 2017
@WheatlanderJay Curious: Do you think it’s acceptable in fed/prov politics for sitting MPs/MLAs to endorse candidates?
— Debra Murphy (@RealAg_Debra) October 20, 2017
No it’s not acceptable. Good governance relies on a diversity of skillsets – and hence the need to broaden viewpoints- not converge https://t.co/w8S1KYnjnZ
— Terry Young (@G82PL8) October 20, 2017
It’s grass roots. No campaigning. No political donations. No party. No ideological agenda. This is not supposed to be an old boys club.
— Jay Schultz (@WheatlanderJay) October 20, 2017