When Peter Mansbridge posed in a photo with a “#Piper2015” sign, the Mount Allison chancellor said he did not know it would be used as an endorsement for Piper Riley Thompson’s campaign for president of the students’ union.
Days later, the candidate and news anchor have distanced themselves from the campaign post. Anger and accusations of misconduct have spread as far as the CBC. One thing is clear: MASU’s election rules say it is okay for a Mt. A administrator to endorse a MASU candidate.
The photo was posted on Riley Thompson’s Facebook campaign page from her personal account on Friday night, Jan. 17. It received more than 140 likes and sparked debate in the comment section about the photo’s appropriateness given the upcoming election. On Thursday afternoon, Jan. 22., the post was deleted.
Accompanying the photo was a quotation attributed to Mansbridge.
“Mount Allison’s Chancellor Peter Mansbridge said of Piper’s campaign: ‘I know Piper from her work on Parliament Hill as a Jaimie Anderson Parliamentary Intern and have full confidence in her ability to lead the Mount Allison Students’ Union as President,’” the caption read in part.
Mansbridge said he did not say this.
“I never said that, and anybody who would have printed that knows very well that I never said that,” said Mansbridge, who had been at Mt. A for the third annual Mansbridge Summit.
The photo of Mansbridge was posted at least three times, twice with Mansbridge’s purported remarks. Both of these were posted from Riley Thompson’s personal account, one of which set the remarks in quotations. Riley Thompson refused to say who uploaded the post, attributing it to her “campaign.” She also refused to say who else, if anyone, has access to her personal Facebook account.
Mansbridge’s former producer on CBC’s The National, Leslie Stojsic, said she was skeptical of the origin of the quotation.
“No one speaks that way,” Stojsic said. “I don’t know where [Riley Thompson] got that quote.”
In an interview with The Argosy, Riley Thompson effectively said that the quotation was not verbatim.
“It’s strung together from a conversation,” Riley Thompson said. “So it’s word-for-word in the sense that that’s what was expressed, but I didn’t record it.”
Both Riley Thompson and Mansbridge brought up a letter of recommendation written by Mansbridge for Riley Thompson in which similar sentiments may have been expressed, but Mansbridge said, “I certainly never said that about anything to do with a race for a student office.”
On Jan. 19 in the comment section of her Facebook post, Riley Thompson wrote, “[Mansbridge] also ran the photo by his former producer, Leslie (who I also know from working on Parliament Hill and the Mansbridge Summits) who gave the post the go-ahead.” However, both Stojsic and Mansbridge have denied seeing or approving of the post to the campaign page.
Riley Thompson later contradicted her comment which claimed Mansbridge and Stojsic had approved the post. In an interview on Jan. 23, a week after the picture and purported quotation had been posted, when asked if either Stojsic or Mansbridge approved the post beforehand, Riley Thompson responded, “No.”
Near the end of the summit reception, after dozens of students had taken photos with Mansbridge, Riley Thompson approached him with her campaign sign.
“Anybody who would have been standing around there would know that I made it clear that this wasn’t to be used in any fashion in terms of an election campaign,” Mansbridge said. “There was no formal endorsement photo.”
Fourth-year political science student Serena Retson was in the room when the photo was taken. She wrote on Jan. 18 in the comment section of the post that Mansbridge looked “exceedingly uncomfortable.”
“He was looking at the sign and he clearly looked pretty conflicted,” Retson told The Argosy. “And then he looked up for a moment and said, […] ‘I can’t do this. I’m the chancellor of your school.’”
Others who were present also said the exchange between Riley Thompson and Mansbridge was awkward to observe.
Mansbridge does not remember specifically what he said at the time, but he said his comfort level was beside the point.
“It wasn’t a question of whether I was uncomfortable,” Mansbridge said. “I said specifically that it was not to be used for campaign purposes.”
Riley Thompson wrote in the comment section of the post that her and Mansbridge “had spoken earlier on Friday, [Jan. 17] about him taking a photo supporting [her] campaign.”
This contradicts multiple sources that have said Mansbridge told Riley Thompson not to use the photo for her campaign. Riley Thompson later said she had not heard this.
“I wholeheartedly stand by the fact that in my memory of last Friday, I don’t believe I was told it couldn’t be used as campaign material,” she said.
When read the comment written by Riley Thompson stating Mansbridge was “thrilled to take a photo promoting [her] campaign, was aware the photo would be posted to social media,” Stojsic said:
“The chancellors comments aren’t as clear as they can be, but that’s contrary to what the chancellor had said.”
MASU President Heather Webster, who has supported Riley Thompson’s campaign, argued that simply posing for the photo with the sign was an endorsement whether Mansbridge meant it to be or not.
“He took a picture with a campaign material, making it a campaign picture,” Webster said.
Regardless of whether Mansbridge intended to endorse Riley Thompson, the events of the summit have already made waves in the Mt. A community.
Robert Hiscock, director of marketing and communications at Mt. A, said he expressed his personal opinion to Riley Thompson about the post.
“I thought it might have been a better idea if it wasn’t there,” Hiscock said.
He spoke with Riley Thompson after informing Mansbridge of one of the posts on Wednesday, Jan. 21.
The day before, opposing presidential candidate Dylan Wooley-Berry filed a complaint with CBC’s English-language ombudsperson about Mansbridge posing for the photo, saying he felt the anchor’s conduct demonstrated poor journalistic ethics. The ombudsperson, Esther Enkin, forwarded the complaint to Jennifer McGuire, the general manager and editor in chief of CBC News.
Wooley-Berry also filed a complaint with the MASU ombudsperson challenging Mansbridge’s behaviour in his capacity as chancellor.
But the posts broke no campaign rules, according to MASU’s elections policies. Only five people are explicitly barred from endorsing candidates, all of whom are MASU staff.
“There is nothing in our operating procedure that says the chancellor himself is not allowed to endorse a certain campaign,” said MASU’s chief returning officer, Rayan Bouhlel, who oversees MASU elections.
Webster accompanied Riley Thompson during her interview with The Argosy. According to Riley Thompson, Webster was present in the capacity of “campaign manager.” Webster disputed the label of campaign manager, but said she understood why she could be perceived as such.
Webster interjected into the interview at two points, and seemed to indicate approval a number of times when Riley Thompson showed something on her phone screen to Webster before responding to individual questions.
Webster also said she gave campaign advice to other candidates, including Riley Thompson’s opponent, Dylan Wooley-Berry.
Just over an hour after her interview with The Argosy, Riley Thompson posted an acknowledgement that she had deleted the post, and apologized for “causing concern for some members of the Mount Allison community.”
“I acknowledge the upset that this has caused to the Mount Allison community and I apologize unreservedly,” the post reads in part.
“I hope we can now return our focus to the remainder of the campaign.”
—With files from Kevin Levangie, Cameron McIntyre and Richard Kent of The Argosy, and Jane Lytvynenko of the Canadian University Press.