Editor’s note: Serena Retson is a fourth-year political science student at Mount Allison. Retson attended the Mansbridge Summit on Jan. 16, and expressed her concerns over the ethics of the photo in a Facebook comment on Piper Riley Thompson’s campaign event page. On Monday, Jan. 19, Retson contacted Tessa Dixon with the intention of submitting a letter to the editor on the matter. Retson wrote and submitted the article on Tuesday, Jan. 20. She was able to reach Leslie Stojsic on Thursday, Jan. 22 for comment. The Argosy spoke to Peter Mansbridge on Thursday, Jan 22. Mansbridge, Stojsic and Riley Thompson have since distanced themselves from the photo. Riley Thompson has removed the Facebook post and apologized.
On Jan. 17, the day after this year’s Mansbridge Summit, a photo of Chancellor Peter Mansbridge holding a #Piper2015 sign was uploaded to the “Vote Piper for Students’ Union President” Facebook page. The photo seemed like an endorsement for Riley Thompson’s campaign for President of the Mount Allison Students’ Union.
Upon seeing this photo, my stomach turned. From my position a few feet from the chancellor, the events leading up to this photo were quite different than what was suggested in Riley Thompson’s post.
When approached by Riley Thompson to take the photo, the chancellor looked uncomfortable. He and his former producer, Leslie Stojsic, said that he needed to remain nonpartisan. Riley Thompson responded that photo was “not partisan” as she is not affiliated with any political party. However, the fact that she is running against someone else in this election means that any endorsement of her campaign, while not equally endorsing the other, suggests preferential treatment.
While awkwardly holding the sign, the chancellor said, “I cannot do this. Mansbridge then took a photo pointing to the sign. (Editor’s note: Mansbridge does not recall his specific remarks.) The photo and its accompanying post was taken down from Riley Thompson’s event page on Thursday, Jan. 22.
In response to my concerns about the ethics of the photo, Riley Thompson responded with a Facebook comment saying that she had discussed taking the photo with the Chancellor during the day.
“He was pleased to take part in a photograph… He also ran the photo by his former producer, Leslie … who gave the post the go-ahead. Both Leslie and the Chancellor have seen the photo since it went online and have no issue with it, ” said Riley Thompson.
The two accounts of the photo are hard to reconcile. Even if I were to accept Riley Thompson‘s explanation, there is still a huge problem here. As a figurehead of our school and a prominent public figure, Mansbridge has an influence on our community. Using this influence to endorse a political campaign is an abuse of his position. As far as I can see, Peter Mansbridge endorsing a political candidate at Mount Allison would be equivalent to the Queen endorsing Stephen Harper.
This leads me to conclude that either Riley Thompson is being less than truthful about the chancellor’s position in the photo, or the chancellor’s behaviour has been inappropriate.
Since the photo’s release on social media, MASU’s Chief Returning Officer Rayan Bouhlel said he “do[es] not find the picture and the endorsement attached to it to be in violation of any of our election procedure (Operating Procedure – V).” In response to my Facebook comment, Bouhlel suggested that if I felt that Peter Mansbridge had been misrepresented that I should contact him.
If Chancellor Mansbridge does endorse the use of his photo in this way, then he is advocating for an unfair electoral advantage. Whether or not this is against the MASU election’s act, it is unethical. If Mansbridge does not endorse the use of this photo, then Riley Thompson has been unethical. This kind of behaviour gives politics a bad reputation. I am, perhaps, not as cynical as I should be, but I believe that politics has the potential to make positive change. When I see players in the game making power-hungry moves, whatever the cost, it discredits the game itself. This gives people another reason to distrust politicians and it is a shame. We deserve more from those who seek to represent us.