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 politics

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.

Policy examples

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

2 thoughts on “Debate sparked over SaskWheat director’s endorsement of board candidates

  1. To me it’s a question of ethics. Board members should be able to state where they believe the policys and direction of the the industry should be heading without endorsing specific candidates by name. Otherwise they will find themselves embroiled inthe same controversy as the sask pulse board a number of years ago.

  2. Sometimes boards need to recruit for specific skill sets. However that should be done as a full board endorsement of specific candidates and reasons given as to why that is believed to be so. Large companies do not just select their boards from the general shareholders they are chosen by merit and their ability to help the company move forward. Most times we struggle to fill these positions and this makes it more difficult to get the right people. It is a good thing to have enough candidates running to actually have an election.

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